Yorkshire v Middlesex (day three): Defending champions well aware of need to raise their game
CRICKET for the connoisseur is normally a euphemism for cricket that is not particularly exciting.
This match has been cricket for the connoisseur.
Take out individual triumphs such as Gary Ballance’s hundred for Yorkshire on the opening day, or Stevie Eskinazi’s hundred for Middlesex on day three, and the first three days have been prosaic.
Indeed, if one imagines spending three days at a relative’s house and being force-fed holiday snaps, one starts to get the general idea… “And here’s one of me and your Auntie Ethel eating our dinner.”
Of course, the nature of County Championship cricket is such that the game could yet see an interesting climax.
Might it be that three days of less than riveting entertainment are merely the foundation for something special?
Perhaps, and yet a trend will have to be bucked in which only 18 wickets have fallen in 266.5 overs.
So far, the match has ambled along, like someone taking a stroll on the nearby seafront. If there is to be an interesting climax, it is likely to come at Yorkshire’s expense.
Middlesex are 470-8 in reply to the hosts’ first innings 406, and there would seem to be only one winner from here.
A draw, however, would not be the worst result for either team.
Both would remain firmly in the mix at the top of the table, with Yorkshire – depleted by injuries and international call-ups – well-placed to push on in the second half of the season towards a hat-trick of titles. At the same time, the reality that they will have to raise their game – a recurring theme since the start of the summer – will be as obvious to them as anyone.
Proceedings were finely poised when play began yesterday beneath heavy cloud.
Middlesex were 130-2 in conditions that did not seem unhelpful for bowlers, but Yorkshire laboured for much of the morning.
They started well enough, the visitors taking 21 balls to add to their score, but successive off-driven fours by George Bailey off Steve Patterson, followed by a three through mid-wicket off the same bowler, signalled a shift in momentum, and runs came a little too quickly for the home team’s liking.
Bailey launched Azeem Rafiq for a straight six to the Peasholm Park end, and he brought up his fifty from 83 balls after starting the day with 19 to his name.
Eskinazi, who also resumed on 19, offered staunch support and got to the same milestone from 118 balls with eight boundaries.
It took Yorkshire until 25 minutes before lunch to take their first wicket, Bailey steering a ball from Will Rhodes to Tim Bresnan in the gully. The Australian hit 62 from 108 balls with nine fours to go with his six, his departure ending a third-wicket stand of 121 in 39 overs.
Bailey twice drove Rafiq to the off-side boundary, while John Simpson swept the spinner for another four.
The second new ball did for Simpson early in the afternoon session, Jack Brooks having him caught low to his left at third slip by Bresnan, while Yorkshire tightened up to the extent that James Franklin, the Middlesex captain, took 30 balls to get off the mark.
Franklin opened his shoulders with a pulled six off Rhodes, while Eskinazi reached his second successive hundred – in only his fourth first-class innings – from 224 balls with 17 fours.
The 22-year-old right-hander, who was born in South Africa and partly raised in Australia, hit 106 against Lancashire last week having made his debut against Yorkshire at Lord’s last September.
He looks an organised player, and he went on to make 157 before being caught at deep mid-wicket off Brooks by Kane Williamson, who had dropped him on 84 at third slip off Bresnan.
Franklin pulled Bresnan for six and then struck him for two off-side boundaries en route to fifty from 100 balls.
The New Zealander, who added 172 for the fifth-wicket with Eskinazi, deserved a hundred, but fell one short when he got a leading edge to Williamson at cover off Brooks, giving the pace bowler his fifth wicket in a typically wholehearted performance.
Yorkshire’s T20 match against Derbyshire on Sunday could be moved from Chesterfield to Derby due to a wet outfield at the Queen’s Park ground.
DISPLAY OF THE DAY
JACK BROOKS captured 5-89 from 33 overs.