Tim Bresnan is a man who has experienced cricket at both international and county level. The Yorkshire all-rounder famously took the wicket that retained the Ashes for England in the 2010/11 series and he has scored more than 8,000 runs and taken more than 700 wickets for his county since making his debut back in 2003.
Despite finishing the season on a personal high — capturing a first-class best 5-28 in his side’s penultimate match against Hampshire — Yorkshire endured a relatively tough campaign. Their fourth-placed finish may suggest a reasonably comfortable year to outsiders. However, for the 34-time champions to experience a season where relegation was a genuine worry, this campaign will be regarded by many as a failure.
With five Yorkshire players called up to the senior England squad across all formats during the domestic season, Bresnan admits that their absence greatly impacted Yorkshire’s performances.
“It makes a massive difference,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Sports Gazette. “[It affects] the balance of the team.”
With Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid, David Willey and Liam Plunkett all representing England this year, Yorkshire contributed the most players of all counties to the national side this season. They also lost youngsters Matt Fisher and Tom Kohler-Cadmore to the Lions squad which further tested the squad’s strength in depth.
“Those Lions calls were probably, in my eyes, a little bit naughty from the ECB. Although it’s nice for the boys that are playing [for the] Lions, it’s obviously difficult for a team and a squad of our size to manage having seven first-team players away. Any team — no matter what sport you play anywhere in the world — is always going to struggle.”
Counties have limited access to international players even when they aren’t away with England. “England controls those players. It’s out of our hands to be honest, which is a shame.”
Rashid’s call up to the Test squad in July was subject to much debate after he had signed a contract that reduced his contributions for Yorkshire to white ball cricket for the season. Former England captain Michael Vaughan stated on Twitter that he found the decision to pick Rashid “ridiculous,” while former England and Yorkshire seamer Matthew Hoggard tweeted that Rashid’s selection was a “kick in the teeth for county cricket.”
Bresnan has his own view: “People were looking at him going, ‘you’re not very smart’. I reckon he’s the smartest bloke on the circuit. He’s had a massive chunk of the summer off, especially the first part of it, and now he’s going on the trip to Sri Lanka.”
Despite his sparse use in the Test series win over India in the summer, Rashid has been rewarded for his performances with a central contract. He has also signed a new all-format deal with Yorkshire. For Bresnan, this could make a “massive difference.”
Yorkshire weren’t the only side whose domestic struggles coincided with a significant contribution to England squads. Lancashire will play Division Two cricket next season for the first time since 2015 following relegation. Things would have perhaps worked out differently had James Anderson, Jos Buttler and Keaton Jennings not played such a prominent role for England. Their absence was compounded by that of Liam Livingstone and Matt Parkinson who spent time with the Lions.
Bresnan speaks of the double-edged sword of being a successful county side. Yorkshire’s development has fostered an environment that is a hot bed of young talent. However, this has meant that the most decorated county in England has been forced to grow accustomed to facing periods of the season without some of their star players.
“I don’t think it will ever change. England is the priority and producing international players is the counties’ main job. The more we produce, the better it looks on us as a club. The fact that we’re producing players that come through the academy and then reach higher honours, like your Bairstows, your Roots, your Rashids, means we must be doing a tremendous job.”
Bresnan is reluctant to use the issue of England call-ups as an excuse for his side’s struggles and explains that there were other factors involved.
“We’ve had a lot of bad luck this year but yeah, we struggled. We had a scenario at the start of the year where we pretty much had our 15 ready for the first game of the Championship and then we had two call-ups [David Willey and Liam Plunkett] to the IPL.
“Matt Fisher looked like he was going to start and then he got injured two days before our first game. Throughout the year, Ben Coad had a couple of niggles and he’s so massively important to us. Patto [Steve Patterson] also had a couple of broken fingers. It was a little bit of a comedy of errors.”
Sam Curran, Mark Stoneman, Ollie Pope and Jason Roy were all absent from champions Surrey for parts of the season as they were away with England, while Ben Foakes and Rory Burns were also picked for the Lions side. Although they featured less than their Yorkshire counterparts — perhaps decreasing the impact on the county side — Bresnan acknowledges how impressive they’ve been.
“They’ve just got the volume of runs and taken plenty of wickets. It always helps when you’ve got players in form. Rory Burns has had a really good season again, Ollie Pope set the world on fire to start with and everyone’s just chipped in around.”
Burns was recently crowned the County Championship Player of the Year at the Cricket Writers’ Awards. With 1,359 runs, he was the highest run-scorer in county cricket in 2018 and was rewarded with a call up to the Test side to face Sri Lanka as a replacement for the retired Alastair Cook.
Bresnan said: “Just on the volume of runs, Rory Burns looks the obvious fit. He’s very willing to get ugly runs, and that’s to his credit. He’s a really good player. The next opener for England really needs a good crack at it. He is unorthodox, but he gets runs and that’s all that matters.”
Surrey batsman Rory Burns celebrates with the County Championship trophy.
Despite England enjoying a great summer, Bresnan stresses that the tour of Sri Lanka won’t be easy.
“It’s going to be massively tough for them. The wickets are massively different to what you experience in England or anywhere else in the world for that matter. England’s seam attack are going to struggle, but the spinners are going to really enjoy it. The batsmen are not going to enjoy it as much because they like pace on the ball and they like to get off to a bit of a start before the spinners come on but that’s not going to happen.”
Much has been made of Keaton Jennings’s performances over the summer after he averaged just 18.11 against India, while he has gone 18 innings without scoring a half-century. Cries for him to be dropped have increased with former England star Kevin Pietersen brutally claiming that Jennings “can’t bat.”
Bresnan disagrees. “Keats [Keaton Jennings] is a good player. He’s struggled, but I think the media and fans have put unwarranted pressure on his technique. Everyone forgets what got him to that point. He scored a volume of runs using his own technique.”
While erring on the side of caution when speaking about the tour of Sri Lanka — which started with a 43-run victory in a 50-over warm-up match on October 5 — Bresnan is positive about the future of English cricket.
Reviewing England’s performances over the summer, he said: “They smashed it out of the park didn’t they? They’ve blooded some youngsters as well [like] Ollie Pope and Sam Curran. Test cricket looks very vibrant and fresh and is well supported.”
Ahead of next summer, Bresnan believes England have a great chance of regaining the Ashes after the disastrous 2017-18 series which ended in a crushing 4-0 defeat.
“I think if you look at Australia right now they are in transition,” he said. “I reckon England — if they play the sort of cricket they played against India this summer — are odds-on favourites for the Ashes.”
In the one-day format, England are tipped by the bookies to win the ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time in 2019 on home soil. Bresnan is confident that Eoin Morgan’s men can be victorious.
He said: “I’m not sure how in control we are of the conditions with it being ICC, but from the home fan’s perspective — home grounds, home wickets — hopefully England will have a massive advantage. I think we’re definitely favourites. If it’s knockout or not, England can beat anyone and I’m backing them to do that.”
Featured photograph/John Heald/www.johnhealdphotography.co.uk