What a year it has been for Yorkshire Disability Cricket, crowned by promotion to the National Quest League for the county’s D40 Tykes team back in September.
This Friday evening, they will celebrate that – plus regional success for the S9 Terriers – at a Headingley awards dinner in the midst of Disability History month.
“That’s something everyone is really excited about,” said Tykes captain James O’Conner. “There’s been a lot of firsts for us this season, and we’ve never had an awards dinner before. It will definitely bring us all closer together.”
Success was led by O’Conner and S9 captain Alastair Domville, with the two sides winning a combined total of 13 out of 16 matches across their respective competitions, losing only one. The S9 Terriers won all of their matches played.
All-rounder O’Conner, despite missing a good portion of the second half of the summer with a broken finger, described 2022 as “definitely” the best year of his cricketing life.
The D40 Tykes, champions of the North, claimed promotion to the county structure’s top division with a play-off victory over South winners Middlesex seconds in September, winning their 40-over clash by 81 runs.
Former England international Gordon Laidlaw starred with 76 retired out to underpin 250-7 before Middlesex were bowled out for 169, including three wickets for Owen Morris and two apiece for new ball pair Edward Denton and Alex Jervis.
“For that promotion play-off against Middlesex, the majority of the ECB’s disability management team came down and they were really impressed with the standard and taken aback a bit,” continued O’Conner, who pointed to the introduction of squad winter training as a key factor in the county’s success.
“There’s been a mass improvement due to a few things that we started this year. For the first time in Yorkshire history, we had winter training. Because of that, we were able to align our goals and set out plans to reach a high performance standard.
“We also went down to Essex and Middlesex for a (D40) mini tour right at the end of our pre-season preparations, and that really helped us.
“They were two first division teams, and it was a case of, ‘Right, if we want to get into this league, this is the standard we have to play to’.
“We lost by 10-20 runs in both games and we were missing four key players, including three top order bats – one our wicketkeeper. The other was our leading wicket-taker.
“That gave us a lot of confidence, and we just rumbled on from there with the help of Owen Jervis, who managed our teams.
“We’re looking to play them again as part of our pre-season plans for next summer, and hopefully we’ll have a stronger squad this time.”
The fact the S9 team, which acts as a feeder to the D40, tasted success by winning their Regional North competition ahead of Wales serves as a major indication that success can be sustained. The future is certainly bright.
“The S9 team aims to support our younger players, and they’ve done that brilliantly,” said O’Conner.
“We have some younger players who have the potential to play D40, but they just need the experience of understanding their disabilities and what is expected in terms of the cricketing mindset.
“We’re looking to bridge that gap between D40 and S9, and there are some plans in the pipeline for next year.
“I’ve spoken to Owen (Jervis) and Tom Hudson at the Yorkshire Cricket Board about a two-year plan, and I think it’s now about establishing ourselves as one of the stronger counties. I think we have already done a lot of work on that and it’s more about developing our younger players.”
Speaking before the start of the most recent summer, O’Conner, an all-rounder who plays YPL North cricket with Acomb and also has Australian first grade experience, was bullish about the D40 side’s chances of promotion.
And, ahead of 2023 when they will lock horns with Lancashire amongst others, he said: “I don’t think many people realise how strong a squad we have compared to some teams in the first division.
“We are one of probably three teams who have more than half the squad either in the England set-up or in the Disability Premier League, and we go into that league with confidence.”
O’Conner pointed to twin victories against close rivals Shropshire as key moments of the summer, and particularly the first of those away from home in July.
“We didn’t take a strong squad down there due to injuries,” he recalled. “Our wicketkeeper was missing, and I had to step in behind the stumps!
“I ended up dropping a catch and broke my finger. I required an operation and was out for a lot of the second half of the season.
“It was a tough challenge against a strong team. We bowled really well and created chances but didn’t take them.
“Then, we came to bat, we had England international Matt Bailey tearing us apart. We were 75-7 chasing 186.
“But Luke Riley and Alex Jervis came in and scored the runs (68 and 35 respectively). I honestly thought we were going to lose, but they pushed us over the line. It was a game we had to win if we were going to get promotion.”
In terms of wider individual performances, O’Conner said: “The runs were shared around between myself, Cameron Sweeney, Gordon Laidlaw, Owen Morris and Luke Riley.
“When it came to the wickets, they were shared around between Liam Savage, Alex Jervis and Edward Denton, who is a 16-year-old who plays Premier League cricket and will probably be the best of us.”
Following an operation, O’Conner had a pin taken out of his finger shortly before the Middlesex play-off game: “I really shouldn’t have played, but I was desperate to help the side,” he said.
That the county maintained their promotion push without their skipper for much of the run-in should act as a further confidence booster for next season.
“100 percent,” added O’Conner. “Our senior players like Gordon Laidlaw, Cam Cooper and Alex Jervis all led the side really well. But everyone stood up. It was our best season for a long time.”