Northamptonshire v Yorkshire - Day Four (close): Flat pitch and doughty batting combine to deny Yorkshire a second victory of season
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WHEN Haris Rauf blew away two batsmen in the opening half hour, the cricketing equivalent of a dynamite blast, it seemed that Yorkshire were well on their way to making it two wins out of two in the Championship this season.
First, Ricardo Vasconcelos, the Northamptonshire captain, fended the Pakistani fast bowler to George Hill in the gully, and then Emilio Gay, the young left-hander who top-scored in the first innings with a fluent half-century, fended to Dom Bess at short-leg.
It left Northamptonshire 70-2 in the formative stages of a sunny final day, a victory target of 499 purely academic, which became 79-3 when Matty Revis had Saif Zaib caught behind pushing forward.
But after that third wicket fell at 11.50am, when spectators’ thoughts were just starting to drift towards opening their pack-ups, the optimism caused by that triple breakthrough steadily evaporated as Yorkshire were forced to settle for a draw.
It was 2.40pm by the time the next wicket fell, Hill inducing a leading edge from Rob Keogh as the batsman tried to turn his opening delivery into the leg-side, Hill having been kept back until the 73rd over of the innings.
The ball looped to Steve Patterson at short extra-cover, the Yorkshire captain one of six men standing in a semi-circle in front of the wicket as Yorkshire’s tactics became increasingly funky in the unhelpful conditions.
Keogh’s departure for 48, following a stand of 99 with Will Young, the New Zealand batsman, who top-scored with 96 on debut, ate up 29 overs, roughly a third of the day.
Although Bess trapped Luke Procter lbw on the back foot in the final over before the second new ball, leaving Northants 195-5 with 40.3 overs left, and Young chopped on to Revis as he tried to leave (236-6 with 26 overs left), Lewis McManus and Matt Kelly shared a seventh-wicket partnership of 78 in 22 overs which effectively settled matters.
Revis yorked Kelly for an entertaining 42, which included two pulled sixes off Rauf, but McManus (62 not out from 141 balls in two hours, 40 minutes) and Gareth Berg completed the escape, Northants closing on 318-7.
That it was always likely to be tough work for Yorkshire on the final day was evidenced by what occurred on day three.
Only two wickets fell then for 377 runs, the pitch going flatter than the M1 motorway.
That said, Yorkshire will be frustrated because Northants are not expected to pull up trees in this year’s tourament, and they did miss two chances to send back Young before they eventually did so.
The first was difficult, wicketkeeper Harry Duke putting him down on three off Rauf on the third evening as he dived to his right at full stretch; the second frustrating when Young, on 62, edged the same bowler through a vacant second slip region which was then immediately plugged - hindsight, of course, being a wonderful thing.
Could Yorkshire have declared earlier than they did to give themselves more opportunity to bowl out Northants?
Only once in the 132-year history of the Championship, indeed, has a side chased more than the 499 Northants were left to score here, Middlesex making 502-6 against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in 1925, so it was pretty unlikely to happen.
Would an earlier declaration have made all the difference, however?
Ultimately, Yorkshire left themselves a minimum of 119 overs to take 10 wickets - time enough, one would feel, to get the job done had the surface played ball.
They gave it their best but were frustrated by that pitch and some resolute batting, while all bowling attacks, to some extent, are still finding their feet in the season’s early weeks.
That Rauf was the one who gave Yorkshire early hope on day four rather said it all.
At 90mph-plus, he provided the only point of difference that was ever likely to make much of a difference as pitch conditions eased as the contest advanced.
There was precious little spin on offer: Bess twirled away with his customary accuracy, and Yorkshire turned to the part-time offerings of Adam Lyth and Dawid Malan for a time.
But there was little there for any of the bowlers that Patterson employed, himself included, and Young played very well during an innings that spanned six hours and one minute, the 29-year-old facing 241 balls and striking 11 fours, pulling the ball powerfully and with excellent placement.
For Yorkshire, the highlight of the match was Hill’s maiden hundred, surely the first of many, along with the continued impressive form of Harry Brook and Malan with the bat.
Brook has started the season with successive scores of 101, 56 not out, 84 and 77 not out; Malan with innings of 39, 65, 64 and 75. Revis - three wickets in each innings and a knock of 31 not out - also took the eye.
Onwards and upwards, as the old saying goes. Yorkshire, by and large, are looking pretty good.