WITH a little more luck, Alex Lees might easily have started the season with three hundreds in four first-class games.
As it is, scores of 86, 92 and 107 are none too shabby and confirm the suspicion that Lees is back.
It seems incongruous to reflect that Lees, the 23-year-old Yorkshire opening batsman, might have been dropped for this week’s match at Notts.
The return of Joe Root for his first County Championship game for over 19 months meant that one of the top-order had to miss out, and it appeared to be a toss up between Lees and Jack Leaning as to who would make way for the England vice-captain.
Leaning’s case for selection was arguably more compelling.
The 22-year-old had hit 51 in the previous match at Warwickshire, along with centuries in both Championship games against Notts last year.
Leaning is a fine player whose time will come again – no doubt after Root returns to international duty following next week’s match against Surrey at Headingley.
But the decision to keep faith with Lees made sense not only because he, too, is a fine player, but also because the club need more of the opening stands and solid platforms that he and Adam Lyth provided in 2014, when their average partnership of 72 played an important part in the club’s title.
Lyth missed out at Trent Bridge this week, but Lees repaid Yorkshire’s faith to the tune of 199 runs in total – fractionally over one-quarter of the runs he managed in the whole of last year’s Championship.
By his own admission, Lees had an underwhelming time of it last year. A proud man with high standards, he felt that he did not hit them on his way to 795 runs from 16 games at 33.12.
He got off to a flying start, scoring 87 and 52 not out in the first match at Worcester, followed by 100 at Trent Bridge, a ground apparently high in his affections.
But that was his last century in any cricket until this week’s effort, and although he had started this season with a fine innings of 86 in the Champion County match against MCC in Abu Dhabi, he had begun the Championship campaign with scores of seven and one against Hampshire and 19 and 20 against Warwickshire, which had potentially put his place under threat due to Root’s return.
“I got runs in the MCC game, but I was looking for runs back in the County Championship and fortunately they came in this match,” said Lees, after Yorkshire and Notts had fought out a thrilling draw in which the visitors survived the final two balls of the game with nine wickets down after making a valiant effort to chase 320.
“I was a little bit disappointed first innings that I didn’t make a ton, so coming into the second innings I just wanted to back it up.
“I enjoyed the second innings; I got a little bit of stick when I went on the field which revved me up a little bit and made me bat all that much harder, but to get runs in both innings is very pleasing.
“I’ve got to keep backing it up over the course of the season now.”
In addition to his youth, which explains many a fluctuation in form, there were reasons for Lees’s labours last summer.
Specifically, he had not had much of a break from cricket for a couple of years – a reflection of his earlier progress as he was called up for various England squads/programmes – and he felt mentally drained.
Lees was not enjoying his cricket as he does normally, but the antidote of a winter off – and no doubt the boost of being handed the Yorkshire one-day captaincy in a bold and aggressive move by the club – looks to have done the trick, and Lees seems in a much happier place than he was last year.
“I had a bit of time off in the winter, came back feeling refreshed and, to be honest, I’ve been hitting the ball well since the winter,” he said.
“I’d been on a couple of programmes the previous two winters, so felt it was probably best to have a little bit of time to myself and start again and come back refreshed.
“I feel good now. I didn’t start off too cracking first two (Championship) games, but I’m delighted with the runs this week.”
Such was the quality of Lees’s display in Nottingham that he was asked afterwards about his England ambitions by Sky pundit Paul Allott.
Again, it seems incongruous to reflect that Lees might not even have played in the match, let alone be talked of at the end of it as a potential Test opening partner for Alastair Cook, but Lees is too level-headed to get carried away by such a prospect.
Presenting the same type of broad bat that he had shown to the Notts bowlers during the game, Lees played it straight down the middle as he told Allott: “I’m not looking too far ahead.
“My main role is to get runs consistently for Yorkshire, building a platform with Adam (Lyth) at the top of the order, and hopefully we can help the team to get some wins.”