Yorkshire engaged in intriguing duel with Middlesex
THERE is nothing quite like a clatter of wickets to make for compelling entertainment.
Fourteen of them fell on the opening day, and you could not take your eyes off the riveting action.
When the dust had settled and the drama was done, Yorkshire had reached 96-4 in reply to Middlesex’s 212.
The combatants went into this contest as the only undefeated clubs in Division One; barring bad weather that is not forecast or an Act of God, one of them seems likely to lose their unbeaten record.
Middlesex were the last county to beat Yorkshire in the Championship, hunting down 472 at Lord’s in April last year.
There is no Chris Rogers this time, however, who led that chase with a stunning 241, and the visitors did not even manage that score between them as they fluffed their lines after winning the toss.
Apart from Nick Compton, who made a stubborn 70 at the ground where his Test career ended two years ago, and Sam Robson, who hit 41 at the scene of his solitary Test century last year, the visitors’ innings was a non-event.
The main event was Yorkshire’s Jack Brooks, the pace bowler returning season’s-best figures of 5-44, ably assisted by Glenn Maxwell (3-55) and the excellent Steve Patterson (2-42).
Yorkshire bowled much better than in their last Championship outing, against Somerset at Taunton, reducing Middlesex from 83-2 at lunch on a green-tinged pitch that had plenty in it for the bowlers, while still rewarding determined batting.
But the old adage that you should always reserve judgment until both sides have batted was again borne out as Middlesex’s bowlers also found the surface to their taste.
Yorkshire slipped from 29-0 to 52-4, England’s Adam Lyth scoring 17 and Gary Ballance one, the latter missing out in his search for a morale-boosting innings after a handful of low scores at Test level.
But it was a day when bowlers held sway, a gloriously sunny, if extremely blustery day on which 2,212 spectators turned out – 85 more than watched the final day of the Test match here between England and New Zealand last Tuesday.
The cricket yesterday was every bit as thrilling as that during the Test, when New Zealand prevailed by 199 runs after scoring at just under five runs an over throughout.
For just when you thought that one side held the balance of power, or might seize control, a wicket would fall to disturb calculations.
With Jonny Bairstow and Jack Leaning still at the crease, however, who are very much their in-form batsmen, Yorkshire will not be dismayed by their position as they seek to bridge the 16-point gap to their table-topping rivals.
But the game is clearly intriguingly poised.
After Yorkshire left out pace bowler Ryan Sidebottom as a precaution, with the former England man deemed not quite ready to return after a calf injury, Brooks claimed the first wicket in the day’s fourth over, trapping Joe Burns lbw.
Robson and Compton added 62 for the second wicket in 22 overs, riding their luck at times but also playing well in an opening session that gave no hint of the crash of wickets that followed.
Robson clipped a handful of delightful leg-side boundaries, while Compton was strong through the covers when presented with the chance to drive.
It looked as though Middlesex might get to lunch with only one wicket down, but Brooks returned to bowl Robson with a fine delivery at the start of his second spell.
After lunch, all hell broke loose.
Patterson produced a jaffa with the sixth ball after the break to have Dawid Malan caught behind. Neil Dexter was also caught behind by Jonny Bairstow after Brooks got one to lift sharply. Then Maxwell took centre stage with a three-wicket burst inside four overs in which he also conceded 25 runs.
The Australian had James Franklin caught at short-leg, pinned John Simpson with a quicker delivery that seemed to keep low, and then bowled Ollie Rayner after the spinner had carted him for five boundaries.
Yorkshire then captured the key wicket of Compton, caught at third slip by Leaning off Brooks having faced 153 balls and struck nine fours.
Patterson claimed a deserved second wicket when he trapped Toby Roland-Jones, and after the tea interval was delayed with nine wickets down, Brooks rounded things off by having James Harris caught on the hook by Ballance at long-leg. It was good stuff from Brooks, who looked on top of his game from the start and who was given a standing ovation as he left the field.
Yorkshire’s reply began well when Lyth hit two delightful cover-driven fours in the opening over bowled by Tim Murtagh.
He struck another one off Roland-Jones before edging him to Rayner at second slip, who then took a fine low catch in the same position three balls later to remove Alex Lees off Murtagh.
Ballance lasted 14 deliveries, falling lbw as he played around a full one from Murtagh, before Harris trapped Andrew Gale in front.
Bairstow (25) and Leaning (20) kept their composure in an unbroken stand of 44 that made Yorkshire feel a good deal better.