Weekend Interview: Adam Lyth plots an opening return to Test arena
ADAM LYTH insists that he is good enough to thrive at the highest level as he battles to regain his Test place.
The Yorkshire batsman lost his spot last summer after a disappointing series against Australia.
Lyth hit 115 runs in the five Tests and was dropped for the winter series against Pakistan and South Africa.
But, after hitting a hundred in only his second Test against New Zealand at Headingley last May, Lyth is adamant that he has what it takes.
“I know I’m good enough to play at the highest level,” he said.
“There’s no question about that in my mind.
“I got a very good hundred at Headingley against some very good bowlers, and I know I’m good enough.
“It’s just a case of going out there and doing it.”
Lyth showed all his class during the innings of 107 against New Zealand that inked him in for the rest of the Test match summer.
He prospered against the high-quality new-ball pair of Trent Boult and Tim Southee in a match that the Kiwis won by 199 runs.
But the runs dried up somewhat against a talented Australian pace attack, which tested all the English batsmen.
The going was never easy against the likes of ex-Yorkshire pace bowler Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson, which only made England’s 3-2 series win all the more impressive.
“I had a great year overall,” reflected Lyth, who first played for Yorkshire in 2006.
“I got runs for Yorkshire in the first match of the season against the MCC in Abu Dhabi, which I guess kind of helped me get picked for the England squad that then went on tour to the West Indies.
“I came back and made my Test debut against New Zealand (at Lord’s), which was a fantastic moment for me and my family, and then I got that hundred in my second Test match at Headingley.
“It kind of went a bit downhill from there, and although it was great to be part of a winning Ashes series, on a personal level it didn’t quite go so well, and it was a big learning curve for me playing against Australia.”
There are those who believe that Lyth, 28, might have had a better time of things last summer had England handed him his Test debut in the West Indies in the Spring, thus giving him more experience ahead of the Ashes.
England, instead, opened with Jonathan Trott in the Caribbean in a move that not unexpectedly backfired, the Warwickshire batsman managing 72 runs in six innings before announcing his retirement from international cricket.
But with Notts batsman Alex Hales having failed to cement his place alongside captain Alastair Cook at the top of the order during the winter, scoring 136 runs in eight innings against South Africa, Lyth remains firmly in the mix for an opener’s berth.
A strong start to the summer could force the selectors to look once more in his direction, with the second opener’s position having been a major problem for them since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012.
Since Strauss’s departure, eight men have been tried and tested to varying success.
Nick Compton enjoyed the longest run with nine games that brought him 479 runs at 31.93.
Yorkshire’s Joe Root was up next, scoring 339 runs in five Tests at 37.66.
Michael Carberry also had five Tests in the role, managing 281 runs at 28.10 on the ill-fated 2013-14 Ashes tour.
Sam Robson hit 336 runs in seven matches at 30.54 and, like Lyth, scored a century at Headingley in his second Test before falling by the wayside.
After Trott and Lyth came and went, Moeen Ali opened the batting for three Tests against Pakistan in the UAE last autumn, scoring 84 runs at 14.00 before making way for latest incumbent Hales.
“Hopefully, I can bounce back and get some runs this year, and then you never know what might happen if things go well,” said Lyth, who is seeking to recapture the form of 2014 when he top-scored for Yorkshire with 1,489 County Championship runs at 67.68, including six hundreds and a career-best 251 against Lancashire at Old Trafford.
“I’ve just got to get on with it and back myself, and if I can get some runs early-season and put some big scores on the board for Yorkshire, then, hopefully, the selectors will be picking me.
“If I do get a call-up again it would be fantastic, and I think I’ll be a better player for the experience of what happened last year.
“It can only help me going forward, and I cannot wait for the season to start.”
Although competition for the opener’s role is fierce, Lyth sympathises with those who have been tried alongside Cook.
He believes that the difficult nature of opening the batting makes the achievements and longevity of Cook all the more incredible, with the captain requiring just 36 runs in the first Test of the summer, against Sri Lanka at Headingley, to reach 10,000 in Test cricket.
“Opening the batting is a tough business,” said Lyth, who hails from Whitby.
“That’s why you’ve got to take your hat off to Alastair Cook for the amount of runs and the amount of hundreds that he’s scored.
“His record speaks for itself.
“He’s set the benchmark, I guess, for everyone else to follow.”
Lyth has worked hard on his game during the winter months, trying to focus on areas that the Australian bowlers exploited last year.
He now believes that he is playing as well as ever, which does not augur well for Yorkshire’s opponents.
“Australia’s new-ball bowlers, with their pace and bounce and swing, were a challenge, and there were a few good balls and a few bad shots in there,” he admitted.
“On top of that, there was the added pressure of playing in the Ashes, so it was a challenge for me in more ways than one.
“Since then, I’ve been working on trying to leave the ball a bit better than I did in the Ashes, and just working hard generally.
“I feel that I’m hitting the ball as well as I’ve ever done.”
In addition to his England ambitions, Lyth is targeting plenty more success on the home front.
Yorkshire are chasing a third successive County Championship and a much stronger showing in white-ball cricket, with the club having not reached a Lord’s final since 2002 and only once graced T20 Finals Day.
“Hopefully, we can do the hat-trick of Championships,” said Lyth, who has hit 7,264 runs in 117 first-class matches at an average of 40.13, with 16 centuries.
“Everyone’s fit and strong, and competition for places is very high, and it’s just about trying to play the consistent cricket that we have done in the last couple of seasons and making sure that we don’t look too far ahead really.
“The squad that we’ve got now has all the bases covered; we’ve got some very strong batters, heaps of bowlers, and the good thing is that we have that ability to take 20 wickets.
“We want to compete in the white-ball stuff as well, and hopefully there’s a Lord’s final for us just around the corner and we can do well in the T20, too.”