SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Pressure on Tykes to return to top tier

First published in Yorkshire CCC News

Pressure is a word that Yorkshire's cricketers are going to have get used to in 2012.

The vast majority, be it supporters, pundits or bookmakers, are expecting Andrew Gale's troops to return to the top tier of the LV= County Championship at the first attempt.

After a disastrous 2011, which resulted in early exits from both one-day competitions and relegation in the Championship, the heat is on.

They simply have to perform this summer or the vultures will circle around Headingley.

The last thing a young and promising squad needs is for chairman Colin Graves to again call them "a disgrace", as he did last September.

When the new coaching appointments of Jason Gillespie, Paul Farbrace and Richard Damms were announced last November, Graves even admitted that heads will roll if the county are not back in division one in time for their 150th anniversary in 2013.

In an ideal world, new first-team coach Gillespie would have liked to come in with a little less pressure on his shoulders.

But the former Australia fast bowler seems to have taken it all in his stride as he has guided his players seamlessly through the second half of a productive pre-season.

No major injuries, no major disruption with England call-ups and a handful of eye-catching performances on the field during their tour to Barbados last month - they even won a Twenty20 competition - seem to have calmed nerves.

Yorkshire have a team capable of challenging the top teams in division one, never mind division two.

Root, Sayers, McGrath, Gale, Bairstow, Ballance, Rashid, Pyrah, Shahzad, Sidebottom and Wardlaw is a formidable outfit, and one full of excitement as they look to fend off the challenge from Hampshire for top spot.

Australian Phil Jaques will come in ahead of the Essex match on April 19 and the likes of Adam Lyth, Steve Patterson, Moin Ashraf and Oliver Hannon-Dalby are waiting in the wings.

Injuries and England call-ups will have an impact on how any county's summer pans out, with Yorkshire likely to lose wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root at some point.

"Getting back up into the first division is our primary aim," said skipper Andrew Gale. "But we also want to make sure we have a good run in the one-day competitions.

"We've had a lot of disappointment in Twenty20 over the last few years. I'd really like to see us get to a Finals Day. If we do that, the buzz of just getting there will carry this team through."

With no pecking order in either one-day competition, it gives Gale and his team-mates the opportunity to show the rest of the country that they belong at the top table of county cricket.

One thing that has to improve if they are to succeed in all competitions is their fielding.

Yorkshire were a little lackadaisical in the field last season, with a number of dropped catches costing them dear. The 40-over match against the Netherlands in Amsterdam stands out in that espect.

But winning the eight-team T20 event in Barbados last month, which included six other counties, has boosted confidence.

And everything does look to be in place for a successful campaign - one closer to 2010 than 2011.

"We're bringing an element of fun as much as we can," said Gillespie. "After all, that's what we're in the game of cricket for. I love coaching, I loved playing, and that's what it's all about for me.

"Hopefully that will transform into some good performances on the field."

But the big question is whether they can handle the pressure.

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