Yorkshire v Kent: Shoes off, but Sam Billings puts boot into Yorkshire at Headingley
“SHOES off if you love Bresnan,” chanted a dozen students in the lower tier of The Emerald Stand, waving their footwear in appreciation of Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan.
Such exuberance is rarely espied at a County Championship match, where the atmosphere is earnest and the demographic elderly, and it brought a smile to the faces of the Yorkshire players, not least the genial Bresnan himself, who was toiling away with ball in hand.
At mid-off, Steve Patterson, the Yorkshire captain, feigned to take off his shoes but decided against it, contenting himself with the broadest of grins, while his fellow fielders chuckled away.
The identity/motives of the students was unclear to this writer, suffice to say that one of them had a multi-coloured umbrella on his head, even though the only ‘drops’ visible on another fine day appeared to be of the alcoholic variety.
Such high-jinks aside, it was a mostly sobering day for Bresnan and co, who face a near impossible task to save this match.
Yorkshire head into the final day on 44-6 in their second innings, trailing by 506, after Sam Billings, the Kent captain, became the first man to score two hundreds in a County Championship game at the ground, striking 122 not out to go with his first innings 138.
Having waited 127 years to witness that feat in a first-class match, Headingley has now seen it happen twice in 25 months.
In August 2017, Shai Hope, of West Indies, scored 147 and 118 not out in a Test here against England, team-mate Kraigg Brathwaite (later to have a brief spell with Yorkshire) striking 134 and 95 in the same game.
Billings, who has now hit three successive hundreds in a timely nudge to the England selectors, top-scored as Kent made 337-7 before he declared their second innings shortly after tea.
If there was a criticism of Billings, it was that he took so long to pull the plug; in “setting” Yorkshire 551, he left them a target far beyond any achieved in Championship cricket, denying his bowlers potentially valuable time, although it is likely to make not a jot of difference.
The highest successful pursuit in a Championship match is Middlesex’s 502-6 against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in 1925, while the highest achieved in any first-class fixture is West Zone’s 541-7 against South Zone at Hyderabad in 2010. Yorkshire’s record chase is 406-4 against Leicestershire at Grace Road in 2005, so it was difficult to comprehend the visitors’ tactics.
That said, they have dominated Yorkshire from the time that they crashed to 39-5 inside the first hour of the game, after which Billings himself and Darren Stevens took the contest away with a Headingley record sixth-wicket stand of 346.
Having been largely upstaged in that first innings by Stevens, who struck a career-best 237, Billings played the dominant hand yesterday, well-supported by Ollie Robinson, who hit a fine 97.
Kent had begun another sun-kissed September day on 2-0, leading by 215, and extended it by 122 runs in the morning session for the loss of three wickets.
Zak Crawley, the highly-rated opener, showed his class with a sumptuous on-driven boundary off Duanne Olivier before Matthew Fisher removed him for 15, lbw pushing forward.
Fisher, the 21-year-old pace bowler, was excellent throughout – Yorkshire have a serious player on their hands if they can keep him fit – and he also sent Daniel Bell-Drummond packing cheaply, bowled by one that he curiously left.
Faf du Plessis was caught at first slip driving at Patterson, having shared 78 for the third wicket with Robinson, who had 50 to his name at lunch and been joined by Billings, who dined on 15.
Robinson missed out on a hundred when he was caught behind off Olivier, who stuck diligently to his task, having added 124 with Billings in 29 overs.
Heino Kuhn was run-out by a direct hit from wicketkeeper Jonny Tattersall after a mix-up with Billings, who went into tea on 99 with the lead standing at a mocking 489.
Billings reached a 138-ball hundred from the first ball after the break, lofting Ajaz Patel just wide of Patterson at mid-off at catchable height and scampering two, then removing his helmet, kissing the badge and accepting the acclaim of an appreciative crowd.
Stevens holed out to long-on and Ollie Rayner was run-out before Kent declared, spinner Patel also bringing up two hundreds in the game – albeit with the ball – as he followed his first innings return of 1-119 from 15 overs with 1-112 from 20 overs; to say that Yorkshire could reasonably have expected more from someone who collected a five-wicket haul in a Test match only last month is an understatement.
Stevens continued his outstanding match with four wickets before stumps, trapping Matthew Revis for a second-ball duck as he played across the line, pinning Adam Lyth as he shouldered arms, having Gary Ballance defending to second slip and Tom Kohler-Cadmore taken by a flying catch from Rayner in the gully.
Matt Milnes had Harry Brook caught at first slip and Patterson brilliantly held by Crawley at third, the sort of grab that might compel anyone to remove their shoe and wave it around in admiration.