WHEN YORKSHIRE slipped from 79-1 to 116-4 shortly after lunch, you could almost hear the cries go up around Headingley of “here we go again”.
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A season blighted by top-order batting difficulties appeared to be following the time-honoured script, with players getting starts and then getting out before they had converted those starts into sizeable scores.
In fairness to Adam Lyth, there was little he could have done with the ball from James Harris that lifted, left him and took the edge through to wicketkeeper John Simpson in the third over after the break, Lyth going for a well-judged 40 that combined moments of graft with some glittering strokes.
Gary Ballance uncharacteristically chased after a wide delivery from Steven Finn and was caught behind for 12, while Alex Lees fell lbw to Middlesex captain James Franklin for 27 as he tried to work the ball into the leg-side.
Having fought hard to reach 77-1 in 33 overs in the morning session, for the loss of Shaun Marsh for 22 lbw to Finn, playing across his pads, Yorkshire were wobbling after Middlesex had exercised the right of the visiting team to bowl first on a cloudy second day after the first day had been lost to rain.
Once again, the scorecard looked like a collection of lottery numbers, albeit ones that were not going to win Yorkshire any kind of jackpot.
For their part, Middlesex – who went into the match just one place and three points above Yorkshire in fifth – had a window of opportunity to extend Yorkshire’s unwanted record of not having reached 300 in their previous nine completed innings, with a best during that time of 283.
Enter Jack Leaning.
The 23-year-old right-hander did his bit to heed the clarion call of the Yorkshire coaching staff pre-match for the batsmen to knuckle down and put a higher price on their wickets.
Leaning top-scored with 85 from 142 balls with 14 fours as Yorkshire reached 317-7 at stumps, a useful effort against a challenging attack.
Those same coaches would doubtless have liked a century or two to applaud from the balcony, but Yorkshire’s total has them favourably placed.
Although Leaning’s was the principal contribution, it was not the lone hand as Yorkshire negotiated a pitch of decent pace and carry.
After the hat-trick of wickets shortly after lunch, Leaning needed support to get the innings back on track and he found it in the form of Andrew Hodd, with whom he added 114 for the fifth wicket inside 30 overs.
To get over 300 on a day when the pitch has been under cover for the last 24 hours and there was a bit of drizzle around, it’s been a really productive day for us.Yorkshire’s Jack Leaning
Hodd chipped in with a welcome 51 from 90 balls with four fours, his third half-century in this year’s competition, and the wicketkeeper produced arguably the shot of the day when he on-drove Finn to the foot of the Rugby Stand with a flourish of which any Test batsman would have been proud.
While Leaning played intelligently at the other end, defending well and driving fluently on both sides of the wicket, Hodd showed nimble footwork before falling to a catch behind off a Franklin ball that drew him forward as it angled across.
Leaning deserved a hundred for his artistry and application, but he fell in the fifth over of the second new ball when Tim Murtagh bowled him as he tried to whip the ball through mid-wicket.
The delivery was too straight to prevent that from carrying a significant risk, and Leaning did not need telling that he had misjudged it as he walked off in a state of self-reproach.
When Adil Rashid fell lbw in not dissimilar style to Murtagh’s next ball, albeit trying to chop down on the delivery leg-side as opposed to striking it away forcefully, the home side were left on 270-7.
But Tim Bresnan and Liam Plunkett prevented another wobble with an unbroken stand of 47, playing with great resolution before bad light ended play with six overs left.
If Yorkshire are to put their batting troubles firmly behind them, not just for the rest of this season but going forward, they need a more productive opening foundation.
Lyth and Lees, the regular opening pair, have an average stand of 21 in this year’s tournament, prompting Yorkshire to shake things up for this match by promoting Marsh to open with Lyth, with Lees dropping down to No.3.
After Yorkshire left out pace bowlers Jack Brooks and Steve Patterson from their final XI on Wednesday, along with batsman Tom Kohler-Cadmore, the signs were initially encouraging as Lyth and Marsh knuckled down early on.
Marsh struck five boundaries on his Championship debut before falling to the final ball of the 19th over, ending the first-wicket stand at 39, while Lyth continued his recent good form from the T20, showing that he is very much a man for all formats.
But the star attraction was Leaning, who displayed the requisite Yorkshire grit.