Chris Stocks talks to Yorksire opener Alex Lees about his hopes of an England call-up and his ambitions for his county
Alex Lees is not short on confidence, in regards to Yorkshire’s prospects of a third successive County Championship title or his own ambitions of playing for England.
Some might see his bullishness as arrogance. But it is his straight-talking manner that makes the 22-year-old so likeable.
He has a long way to go before he can match either the brashness, or indeed the on-field achievements, of another famous Yorkshire opener in Geoffrey Boycott. But Lees tells it like it is and for that he must be commended.
Asked if Yorkshire would now be marked men this summer after securing back-to-back Championship titles, Lees is refreshingly candid.
“As a county Yorkshire seem to be quite disliked due to some influentialfigures over the years voicing their opinions,” he says in clear reference to Boycott.
“It’s obviously the biggest county in the country and people probably don’t like that to start with and when you add a couple of trophies to it teams are going to come at us harder than ever before.
“I think when you’ve won it twice then it’s completely different. There are some really competitive sides this year and there’ll be a team to beat – hopefully it’s us.”
This summer Lees and his team-mates can become the first side to win three successive Championships since the great Yorkshire team led by Brian Close won a hat-trick of titles between 1966 and 1968.
Surrey, who won seven in a row in the 1950s, are the only other county to achieve the feat since the Second World War.
Lees, unsurprisingly, is confident this current team under the captaincy of Andrew Gale can make history.
“If I said we didn’t have confidence we could do it people would say we’re lying,” he said. “We certainly do have the squad, that’s become quite apparent over the last few years.
“So the key thing for us is just going one game at a time, one day at a time, one session at a time almost like pieces in a jigsaw. You keep adding piece by piece and then you find come September you’re in the mix for honours and we won’t take any different approach.
“Hopefully we’ll keep all our bowlers fit and manage them well and get off to a good start.”
Yorkshire’s bowling attack, boosted by the signing of David Willey from Northants this winter, has been key to their success in the past two summers. Tim Bresnan, Liam Plunkett and Jack Brooks lead a seam attack that has been complemented by the leg-spin of Adil Rashid.
“I don’t think anybody would argue it’s the best in the country on paper,” says Lees. “But those guys have got to perform and they’re all a year older. If they can perform to their potential I don’t think there’s many better attacks in domestic cricket around the world and it probably rivals some international ones. So we’re hoping to keep them all fit and see them do the business.”
As for his own form, Lees wants to put a disappointing 2015 season to bed in the coming weeks and re-establish himself as a potential opening contender for England’s Test team.
After averaging 47.76 and 44.26 in the previous two first-class summers, Lees was talked up as a viable partner for Test captain Alastair Cook.
Yet a relatively modest return last year – an average of 33.30 and just one century – saw him leapfrogged in the pecking order by county team-mate Adam Lyth and then Alex Hales.
“As a team it was great to back up our 2014 season,” said Lees. “Personally I’ve been quite honest in my appraisal. I averaged around 30 in Championship cricket which for my standards and where I want to be is below par. I think going into this summer I’m confident I won’t have another season like that.
“I’ve looked at my technique over the winter and hopefully I can score some nice consistent runs for Yorkshire again.”
Losing Lyth for most of the summer didn’t help, but Lees will be reunited with his county team-mate this year after he was discarded by England following a poor Ashes series.
“It probably wasn’t ideal but it was no reason for me to underperform,” Lees said of Lyth’s absence. “It looks like this year, certainly at the start of the season, Adam will be with us.
“I know me and him batting together has given us a little bit of a psychological advantage in first-class games.
“I’m guessing all it’ll take is for us to get another couple of hundred partnerships early doors and we’ll have that same effect as we’ve had in the previous couple of years.”
Lees is searingly honest about his own international aspirations.
“I don’t think you’d be human if you didn’t enjoy praise,” he said. “In that respect it was nice to be talked about (regarding England). I’d had two good years – 2013 and 2014 – and I’m well aware you need to back it up and maybe if I’d played well last year I might have been afforded an opportunity. But I didn’t and my main goal and ambition is to score heavily for Yorkshire again.”
Lees also pulls no punches when it comes to Yorkshire’s chances of keeping Jason Gillespie, their coach who almost joined England at the start of last summer before missing out to fellow Australian Trevor Bayliss.
“I think it’s inevitable in the next few years he will probably leave us,” admits Lees. “I think you’d be naïve to think he’ll stay at Yorkshire forever. As a player and a coach people have ambitions and aspirations and if we get another two or three years out of him then great, it’s a bonus.
“But there’ll be international teams looking at him and I think it’s something we probably have to have a contingency for when he does leave but we’re enjoying having him around now.”
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday April 8 2016