IT would be premature to describe Yorkshire’s County Championship match against Somerset at Scarborough this week as a must-win game for the home team.
There are five fixtures remaining after this one, while the gap from fourth-placed Yorkshire to first-placed Essex is only 42 points at this stage – not necessarily equivalent to two victories.
Yorkshire still have to play Essex twice, with Essex their opponents at the Scarborough Festival in early August and then in the final match of the season at Chelmsford.
But with Essex not playing this week, Yorkshire have a great chance to close the gap on them against a Somerset side who are second-bottom of Division One and still seeking their first victory in the tournament at the eighth attempt.
If not quite a must-win game for Yorkshire, therefore, it is certainly a match they will expect to win given good weather.
They have lost only one of their last 10 Championship games against Somerset, whom they beat by three runs at Taunton last month when the hosts failed to chase 262, having been 231-6.
If that reflected the talent and temperament in the Yorkshire team, and their never-say-die spirit, it also betrayed a lack of confidence in a Somerset side that is now staring relegation in the face.
Four defeats and three draws is an unhappy return for a club who challenged Yorkshire for the Championship last year, but who have yet to get out of the blocks this season.
By their own admission, Yorkshire have not been at their sparkling best of late either, as evidenced by the uncomfortably close nature of the match in Taunton.
That was followed by an innings defeat against Middlesex at Lord’s in which perennial batting problems again resurfaced, which, in turn, was followed by the concession of more than 500 runs against Surrey last week in a rain-ruined fixture at Headingley.
Yorkshire’s bowlers can be forgiven the odd off-day, however; after all, those have been decidedly few and far between in recent years.
But the component parts of the side in general have not quite been clicking collectively and Yorkshire need to get a move on now to win back the title.
As such, a visit to Scarborough might be just what the doctor ordered, with North Marine Road often bringing the best out of them.
Yorkshire have won five of their last six Championship games at Scarborough, where they are typically roared on by a large and partisan support, who flock to the country’s finest out-ground.
Although it is by no means panic stations in terms of Yorkshire’s title ambitions, the time has nevertheless come for the 2014 and 2015 champions to bare their teeth.
It is a fact readily acknowledged by first-team coach Andrew Gale, who is challenging his players to put together a strong run of form.
“They’re all big games now,” said Gale. “We’ve got a good record at Scarborough, and, hopefully, we’ll continue that this week.
“We haven’t been playing to the best of our capabilities, but, if we can start to get that right, I’m sure we can go on a run.
“I just want us to start playing to the best of our ability; when we do that, the results will look after themselves.”
Gale and club vice-captain Tim Bresnan, who will lead the side in place of England-bound Gary Ballance, have some decisions to make in terms of the side’s composition.
Harry Brook, Jack Leaning and Tom Kohler-Cadmore are vying for top-order batting slots, while Liam Plunkett is back in contention after England duty for what would be his first Championship appearance since the game against Somerset at Headingley last September.
The composition of the bowling unit will be particularly interesting, with Plunkett, Bresnan, Steve Patterson, Ben Coad and Ryan Sidebottom in a pace bowling arsenal so strong that there is no place for Jack Brooks.
Although Sidebottom was rested for the Surrey game, Gale confirmed he is ready for selection.
“Siddy is 100 per cent ready to go,” he said. “He was fatigued (for the Surrey game) and had played four games in a row.
“We did quite a few overs in the dirt at Taunton, and at Lord’s, and we just felt it (the Surrey game) was a game too far. But he’s 100 per cent ready to go on Monday.”
Coach Gale is confident of a much-improved bowling display from his side this week when the forecast is for much better weather.
“We didn’t bowl as well as we would have liked against Surrey, but one of the positives of our season so far has been our bowling,” he said.
Yorkshire (from): Tim Bresnan (capt), Harry Brook, Ben Coad, Peter Handscomb, Andrew Hodd, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Jack Leaning, Alex Lees, Adam Lyth, Steve Patterson, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Ryan Sidebottom.