Cricket writer JOHN JAMES puts the focus on Yorkshire as they complete the Twenty/20 Cup and return to LV Championship action against Roses rivals Lancashire at Old Trafford tomorrow
GERARD BROPHY is the man currently entrusted with the wicketkeeping gloves by Yorkshire but he knows from experience that he cannot afford injury or loss of form because Rotherham-born Simon Guy is always breathing down his neck and anxious to take over.
And the competition will only get stiffer for this important role because two other outstanding young wicketkeepers are making rapid strides forward in the form of Holmfirth-based, Greg Wood, and Bradford-born, Jonathan Bairstow, who now lives in Dunnington, York, and is the son of former Yorkshire and England wicketkeeper, David.
Brophy, born in South Africa, was signed from Northamptonshire before the start of the 2006 season because it was felt at the time that neither Guy nor Dewsbury-born,Ismail Dawood was consistent enough with the bat.
Ismail was not retained but Brophy’s batting has come on in leaps and bounds this season and Guy has made big scores in the Second XI without as yet being able to transfer them to the first team.
But both Wood and Bairstow are excellent batsmen and there seems to be no reason now for Yorkshire to look outside their own boundaries for a new wicketkeeper for many years to come.
Too many youngsters graduating from the Yorkshire Academy have been allowed to move on to other counties before being properly tested on their own doorstep and 29-year-old Bradford-born Jamie Pipe is a case in point. He moved to Worcestershire as understudy to fellow Bradfordian Steve Rhodes in 1998, and is now wearing the gloves with Derbyshire.
At the moment, however, Brophy has certainly won the right to be regarded as Yorkshire’s No 1 wicketkeeper because of the fine batting form which has surprised a lot of fans after a pretty poor showing last year.
He gave a hint of his potentially destructive strokeplay in the Twenty20 match against Derbyshire at Derby in 2006 when he thrashed a half-century from just 14 balls with 12 fours to record the second fastest 50 ever seen in this form of cricket but for much of the time he was only ordinary.
So keen was he to improve, however, that during the winter he travelled three times a week from his Northampton home to Headingley Carnegie where Yorkshire batting coach Kevin Sharp took him under his wing.
Sharp impressed upon Brophy that he should be more upbeat about his batting because he had all the shots and was simply too good a player for second team cricket.
The talk and the tuition worked wonders, Brophy knocking up 80 in the second Championship match of the season against Durham at Headingley and then travelling to the Rose Bowl where he registered his maiden century against Hampshire for the White Rose county.
He had scored 326 Championship runs in four Championship matches – and claimed 17 victims behind the stumps – when he was sidelined with a chipped knuckle and Guy took over until he returned.
Guy is one of the most athletic wicket-keepers in the country and in his two Championship appearances he added 11 catches to the three catches and a stumping he had pulled off while standing in for Brophy in the second innings of the Durham match after Brophy had damaged his hand.
It was hard on Guy that he could not hold down his place but Brophy has again shown on his return that he is the more reliable batsman of the two and he has been opening the innings with Craig White in the rain-hit Twenty20 matches.
The pair of them, however, will soon be coming under threat from the 18-year-old Wood who captained England Under 19s on their tour of Malaysia last winter and has now moved up from the Yorkshire Academy to junior pro status.
Wood recovered well from a nasty eye injury sustained earlier in the season when a ball squeezed through the grille of his helmet while batting for Yorkshire Seconds and he enjoyed a sensational innings for the Academy at Abbeydale Park last month when he plundered 210 with 27 fours and five sixes in their 98-run win over Sheffield Collegiate.
Bairstow, a year younger than Wood, has represented Yorkshire Schools from Under11s upwards and he was a prominent member of the Under15s side which achieved the Championship and Cup double in 2005.
Both Wood and Bairstow are among five young Yorkshire players who are in the 25-strong England squad which is being groomed for the Under 19s World Cup in Malaysia next year.
The three others are 18-year-old fast bowlers James Lee and Oliver Hannon-Dalby and 17-year-old left-hander, Chris Allinson.
Lee, born in Sheffield and brought up in Thackley, Bradford, made a surprise Yorkshire first team debut last season when he played in the Roses match at Old Trafford and although he did not get a wicket he certainly looked an outstanding prospect. He enjoyed more tangible success on his Second XI debut last year when he claimed five for 66 against Warwickshire Seconds.
Hannon-Dalby, from Salterhebble, Halifax, is on his way to becoming one of Yorkshire’s fastest bowlers and already this summer he has enjoyed six-wicket hauls for both the Academy and the Seconds.
Allinson is from Guisborough and he had an amazing Second XI debut last August when he flogged 127 and 72 not out against Somerset Seconds at Taunton.
There is certainly no shortage of talent emerging from Yorkshire’s junior ranks and the club must make sure that the cream rising to the surface is not skimmed off by other counties.