In the lead up to the 2016 domestic season, ecb.co.uk will be running a series of features with all 18 first-class counties. Yorkshire's Adam Lyth discusses the possibilities of his side completing a hat-trick of titles in the Specsavers County Championship.
The anticipation ahead of each cricketing summer is full of questions, surrounding the domestic competitions and the national team. Adam Lyth hopes to be a significant player in two of the key themes of the spring of 2016 – starting in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
Can Yorkshire become the first county to complete a hat-trick of Championship titles since Brian Close’s redoubtables from 1966-68? And who might be selected to join Alastair Cook in England’s top three when the international summer begins with the first Investec Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley on May 19?
The familiar opening to the first-class season between the champion county and an invitational XI compiled by the MCC – which has found a home at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium since 2010 – allows Yorkshire, and Lyth, to steal a march (in March) on their rivals.
His county team-mates Gary Ballance and Alex Lees also have the chance to stake a claim for one of those top-three vacancies, and the same goes for the MCC batsmen including Nick Browne and Tom Westley of Essex, Surrey’s Rory Burns, and the newly-appointed Warwickshire captain Ian Bell.
Lyth would settle for a repeat of this fixture in 2015 – when, after MCC openers Cook and Nick Compton had failed in the first innings of the match, he responded with a century, followed by an unbeaten 46 to steer Yorkshire to a nine-wicket win.
They were good times for the left-hander as he had been informed shortly before Yorkshire’s departure for the UAE of his inclusion in the England squad for the three-Test tour of West Indies. He had to wait until the first home Test of the 2015 summer against New Zealand at Lord’s for his debut, and scored an emotional and memorable century in his second senior appearance on home soil at Headingley.
The Ashes series that followed was a battle, as he concedes with refreshing northern bluntness - and that meant a winter at home in Whitby, with first Moeen Ali and then Alex Hales replacing him as Cook’s opening partner. But now he feels rested and ready to have a crack at regaining that place.
“I can’t wait for the season to start,” said the 28-year-old. “This MCC game will be a good test for all of us to see where we are in pre-season.
“It went well for me last year, and I went on from there to the West Indies and then playing for England in an Ashes summer. It was a bit of a rollercoaster, and on a personal level things didn’t quite go to plan after getting the hundred at Headingley.
“It was quite tough at times. But I’d go back to the hotel and even if I hadn’t got many runs, remind myself I was playing for my country in the Ashes – that always put a smile back on my face. I was still part of an Ashes summer – you always dream of winning the Ashes, and that came true.
“But I didn’t get enough runs, and they went with Moeen and Alex Hales. It would have been nice to go to the UAE and South Africa, but if I can do well in pre-season, starting in Abu Dhabi, you never know what might happen. I feel in great nick, so hopefully I can get myself back in the selectors’ favour and thoughts. I’m aiming to score some heavy runs for Yorkshire and hopefully I’ll get picked again.”
A hungry Lyth can only be good news for Yorkshire as they aim to continue their dominance of first-class cricket in England. They should be much stronger for the early stages of their title defence than in 2015, when Lyth was one of six players on national duty in the Caribbean. And the opener confirms that the chance to complete a hat-trick of Championship titles is a major motivation for everyone at Headingley.
“To do it three in three is a massive carrot for everybody – players, staff and supporters,” he said. “We do get a bit sick as players of everyone talking about the 60s. It’s not that we don’t respect the history of Yorkshire and the great players of the past, but we want people to be talking about this present Yorkshire side and what we’re doing now. That’s a massive thing in the dressing room.”
The hat-trick bid will begin at home to Hampshire on April 17 – and a possible head-to-head for Lyth, Lees and Ballance against James Vince, another of the contenders for England’s top order. Then it’s down to Edgbaston for another meeting with Bell, this time leading his Bears, before an intriguing fixture against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge – where Hales and James Taylor are likely to be in the opposition ranks.
Lyth also confirms Yorkshire’s determination this season to improve on their recent white-ball record, with the signing of Travis Head increasing their firepower for the latter stages of the NatWest T20 Blast and then the Royal London One-Day Cup.
But for now, their focus is the MCC in Abu Dhabi, followed by the Specsavers County Championship. Lyth is hoping both to make up for lost time in the winter, and to make an early spring impression.
— Yorkshire CCC (@YorkshireCCC) March 2, 2016