Raising the bar: Alex Lees keen to develop in order to hit ground running in 2017
ALEX LEES may be eyeing warmer climes in the New Year but do not think for one moment that it is anything to do with soaking up some welcome winter sun.
It is everything to do with the Yorkshire opener giving himself the best possible chance of hitting the ground running when his County Championship commitments begin in April.
The 23-year-old is aiming to play cricket in the southern hemisphere in January and February – with options including playing grade cricket in Australia and New Zealand or some winter training at the Dale Benkenstein Academy in Durban.
Lees plans to use his time wisely with the Halifax-born top-order man in full agreement with the recent words of newly-installed first-team coach Andrew Gale and director of cricket Martyn Moxon, whose desire that he focuses purely on his batting having received a receptive ear.
Lees believes that he will be able to flourish without the demands of captaincy at a relatively young age in cricketing terms, even accounting for the fact that he took plenty from the experience of leading the county in the shortened forms of the game last term.
Lees told The Yorkshire Post: “I enjoy the challenge of re-cementing my place in the teams. I played nicely with the red ball and had a decent-ish campaign in the Twenty20 (in 2016), but a disappointing one in the one-day stuff.
“I fell below my high standards and it is something I want to put right. I want to lead from the front with runs more than anything else.
“On the whole, it was a decent year, if not an amazing one. But I think for my development I probably need to be going to play somewhere for a couple of months or at least have a month outside before the season.”
Outlining his plans for the early part of 2017, Lees added: “After Christmas off and some time away and spending it with the family, it will be back to the gym and batting and looking at some technical things and approaches where I can improve. Hopefully, there will be something concrete regarding playing somewhere in January or February.
“As a player, you need to continually look to develop and do the best things by yourself as a cricketer.
“I took the decision last year to have the winter off to rest and this year, I feel I need some cricket to develop my game. It is about making that judgement call on myself and being at ease.
“If I can be batting in January and February, I can come into March in good form and almost hit the ground running. That is the intention. It is something you look forward to.
“You also need to experience different cultures in cricket and life experiences. In 10 years’ time, you might be in a normal job and somebody may not be willing to pay you to play cricket.
“You might as well take the opportunity. I am still early on in my career and these are the opportunities that many don’t experience in a lifetime.”
Performing well with Yorkshire may be occupying the vast majority of Lees’s attention, but like any ambitious young batsman, the rise of the likes of Durham’s Keaton Jennings and Lancashire’s Haseeb Hameed has not been lost upon him.
The duo’s sudden rise to international stardom offers hope to Lees and other aspiring young top-order players.
To give himself the best chance of emulating them by appearing for England, Lees appreciates that the hard yards will have to be negotiated in the close season, followed by a stack of that precious currency of runs when the real business begins in the early Spring.
Jennings and Hameed may be the duo who are all the talk at the minute, but their promotion at least provides inspiration to the likes of Lees that it could be their turn in a few years if their progression is sufficiently pronounced.
Citing the example of Jennings, Lees added: “Particularly with cricket, it is a sport where you have to show good form for maybe a year and be in the mix.
“Keaton Jennings has obviously gone away and worked his method out in his game.
“Speak to anyone this time last year and ask if Keaton would have been in the mix to play international cricket or go on the Lions tour and they would probably have categorically said ‘no’. It is one of those things; as a cricketer, you have to keep developing and have a little bit of good fortune and if you keep doing the right things, you never know.
“If I have a good 1,200-run year in the red ball and do it for two or three good seasons, I don’t see why I cannot put myself in the (international) picture – although I admit a lot of variables must go your way.”