Ali Maiden is looking forward to an early meeting with old friends as Yorkshire get their LV= Insurance County Championship promotion bid up and running against Leicestershire at Headingley from April 6.
All-rounder Ben Mike could also get the chance to make his home debut against his former county, who may themselves include new England Test leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed.
“Leicestershire struggled in the Championship last season, so they will be dead keen to start well,” said Maiden, one of Yorkshire’s two assistant coaches and who left his job as Academy boss at Grace Road earlier this year.
“It’s a bit like a boxing match in the early stages of the season. The first two or three rounds are always close-fought before the stronger teams start to take charge.
“It certainly won’t be an easy contest. They will come hard at us. But that’s exactly what we’ll be doing as well.”
Ahmed, 18, has only played three Championship matches to date but earned a last-minute call-up to England’s squad for the ongoing Test tour of Pakistan.
“I know Rehan reasonably well, and he’s a wonderful talent,” said Maiden.
“It will be interesting to see how he goes this winter and also how he’s used early season. Will Leicestershire play two spinners early on? (They also have left-arm spinner Callum Parkinson).
“But what he does do very well, which gives him a great chance of success, is that he’s a very good batter. He got a first-class hundred last season. And he fields brilliantly as well.”
Relegation hit Yorkshire hard in September, though the coaches and players are determined to put things right at the first attempt next year.
There are some mouthwatering four-day fixtures planned; a trip to face Sussex at Hove in April, for example, a clash with Derbyshire at Chesterfield and twin Scarborough home games against Durham and Derbyshire.
“There’s a huge amount of desire to get back into Division One,” continued Maiden. “You just have to look at the signings Ottis and Goughie have made. They’ve brought in a huge amount of quality.
“The lads were devastated at the end of the year. But they’ve come back to training desperate to get better.
“It was a tough end to the season for a young squad, but what I would say is that the senior players like Lythy have brought important perspective.
“He remembers the county getting relegated the year after they won the title (2002). It’s not the first time it’s happened and it probably won’t be the last. It’s sport.
“We reflected on the season quite quickly and tried to move forwards.”
Yorkshire have been back in training since early November, with various players coming and going, including Harry Brook for a week immediately after winning the T20 World Cup in Australia.
“We all loved seeing him, and he got plenty of pats on the back for his involvement in the World Cup,” said Maiden.
“At the minute, the focus for training is very individual based. In January, that’s when the team will really start to come together and prepare.
“The winter’s a very long period, and the season can at times feel like a million miles away. So when the fixtures do come out, it does focus the mind and make things a bit more real.”
While the squad and coaches had to reflect on where things went wrong in the Championship, they would have been able to reflect on a lot of things that went right in the Vitality Blast, having reached Finals Day for only the third time in the county’s history.
Beaten semi-finalists, the Vikings will start their bid to better that next year with a clash against Birmingham Bears at Edgbaston on May 20, part of a double header with Derbyshire and Lancashire. The ECB have titled the competition’s opening day event, Blast Off.
“It will be an interesting start, something new, and it should be a good day,” said Maiden.
“Hopefully we’ll get a decent crowd in and some good travelling support.
“An away game at Edgbaston, usually it’s not full being such a big ground. So that format might bring a few more people in and make it more of a spectacle, which would be nice.
“With the players we’ve brought in, with Shan Masood and David Wiese as our overseas players, I think it adds quite a lot to the Blast group. Looking at us on paper, we’ve got a really good strong chance in that competition.”
The two Roses Blast games take place at Headingley on Thursday June 1 and at Emirates Old Trafford on Friday June 30, the final North Group fixture which could decide quarter-final qualification.
“Last season’s Roses games were unbelievable,” reflected Maiden. “The two group games went to the last ball and we got them again in the semi-final and things didn’t go our way.
“But the group games were two of the best I’ve ever been involved in anywhere. If we’ve got more of that to look forward to, then bring it on.”
In head coach Ottis Gibson’s absence because of Hundred duties, Maiden led Yorkshire in last season’s One-Day Cup, which saw them narrowly miss out on knockout qualification.
“We weren’t too far away, and we’ll have to assess where we are with availability for that competition when we get there for next season,” said the former England women’s assistant.
“But hopefully in the next year or two, with young lads having had a couple of years development, maybe it changes from a competition which aides progression to one where we say, ‘Right, let’s see what we can do – can we get to the final?’”
On paper, the Vikings have a tough start to their 50-over campaign in August, taking on champions Kent at Scarborough to start with on Tuesday 1 before tackling beaten finalists Lancashire at the same venue two days later.
An away trip to face Middlesex at Radlett wraps up the group stage on Tuesday August 22 – one of 18 days of outground cricket for Yorkshire across the various competitions in 2023.
Yes, Championship promotion is a key aim for the club, but that is far from the sole goal.
“I can only speak from my first involvement at Yorkshire, which has been one season,” added Maiden.
“Right from the start, Goughie and Ottis were very keen on trying to win the first division, which obviously didn’t go our way, and getting to Finals Day in the Blast.
“Some counties are more focused on white ball cricket, which is largely finance driven and that sort of stuff.
“But in my time here, it’s been very obvious that the emphasis is on success across the board in all the competitions. We as a staff heard from the new chief executive (Stephen Vaughan) the other day, and he spoke about success on the pitch as well.
“We want to win the Blast, we want promotion in the Championship and the one-day Cup, that’s a bit more of, ‘Let’s see where we are with availability a bit further down the line’.”