CRICKET: Joe Root's relishing Yorkshire return for Finals Day of the NatWest T20 Blast
The one blot on Yorkshire's otherwise rich canvas is that they have never won honours in Twenty20 cricket but the Vikings are determined to wipe away that stain tomorrow at the NatWest Blast Finals Day at Edgbaston.
And they must stand every chance of doing so because England’s Famous Five - Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett and David Willey - have all been given permission to play by their country, leaving Vikings with a selection headache in deciding who they should leave out of their final line-up.
Yorkshire have such strong all-round depth that Willey and Plunkett could not even make it into the Championship side for this week’s Roses clash at Old Trafford but the England Twenty20 World Cup duo of all-rounders could well be key figures in Vikings quest for glory.
“We’ve not relied on any individuals, and everyone of the guys has chipped in,” Root said.
“When guys have gone away on international duty, others have stepped in and put in match-winning performances. It should be a great occasion - Finals Day is always a special day, and the lads have played extremely well to get to this stage.
“It’s always good to come back and play for Yorkshire, and play with lads I’ve known since I was a young kid. Durham will be a tough test with a lot of matchwinners, and we’ll have to play well to beat them, but there’s no reason why we can’t.”
Willey, particularly, is a vital cog in the wheel because this relatively new boy to Yorkshire cricket is an old hand when it comes to Finals Day. This will be his fourth appearance there, his previous three being with Northamptonshire Steelbacks who Vikings could meet in tomorrow’s final if they can overcome Durham Jets first.
Last year, in what was his last day’s cricket before joining Yorkshire, Willey helped Steelbacks beat Warwickshire in the semi-finals but Lancashire proved too strong for them in the final.
Willey, however, is a much more complete cricketer these days and he’s played a major part in getting Vikings through to Edgbaston with 269 runs and nine wickets.
He was in ferocious mood with the bat in the quarter-final thrashing of Glamorgan at the SSE Swalec stadium when he smashed 79 from just 38 balls with seven fours and six sixes and he also savaged Steelbacks in the North Group match at Headingley with 74 from 46 deliveries with five fours and six sixes.
It’s was largely through his performance with the ball - he claimed a hat-trick - that he won the player-of-the-match award when Steelbacks lifted the trophy in 2013, so he admits that his all-round experience is valuable for Vikings.
“There will be an expectation on me to perform at Edgbaston, but that’s the case with any one-day game,” he said.
“We will also have the England players back, which will make it a massive headache for the coaches to pick 11 players. It’s going to be a big day and a great day, particularly if we win it.”
Vikings only previous appearance at Finals Day was in 2012 when they lost to Hampshire in the final.
On that occasion, their captain was Andrew Gale but now he has been replaced in white-ball cricket by Alex Lees and this will be a notable feather in the 23-year-old opener’s cap if he can add the NatWestT20 Blast title to the Yorkshire honours board.
To have led them to Finals Day is a great achievement in itself because Vikings made a near-disastrous start to their campaign by plunging to the bottom of the table with three consecutive defeats followed by a couple of ‘no result’ matches.
But then Lees helped them pick themselves up by their bootlaces as they won eight of their next ten matches leading up to tomorrow’s encounter with Durham Jets.
“Durham have got Ben Stokes back, which will obviously strengthen them, but we’ve got our England lads, too, and it’s going to be a cracking game,” he said.
“We’ve been playing some great T20 cricket at just the right time and I’m confident in the strength of the team and the cricket we are playing.”
Like Vikings, Jets have only had one previous appearance at Finals Day and that was in 2008 when they lost to Middlesex in the semi-finals.
Vikings from: Alex Lees (captain), Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance, Tim Bresnan, Andy Hodd, Jack Leaning, Adam Lyth, Steven Patterson, Liam Plunkett, Azeem Rafiq, Adil Rashid, Will Rhodes, Joe Root, Matthew Waite, David Willey.