Bairstow excels to assist in driving away storm clouds

Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow (left) celebrates his century with Anthony McGrath. PICTURE BY ALEX WHITEHEAD/SWPIX.COM
Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow (left) celebrates his century with Anthony McGrath. PICTURE BY ALEX WHITEHEAD/SWPIX.COM
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ON the morning after the night before, Yorkshire had looked decidedly groggy.

The cloak-and-dagger departure of Ajmal Shahzad, who left the club on the eve of this match, appeared to have had an unsettling effect as the home team slipped to 33-3.

But as the hangover clouds progressively dispersed, and as the sunshine returned to the Yorkshire scorecard, so the Shahzad affair was temporarily forgotten.

A hundred from Jonny Bairstow plus a half-century from Andrew Gale, who shared a fourth-wicket partnership of 160, helped the hosts to 329-5 at stumps after they were asked to bat beneath slate-grey skies.

More will emerge on the Shahzad situation at noon today when the club hold a press conference at North Marine Road. Yorkshire chairman Colin Graves and director of cricket Martyn Moxon are set to outline the reason for the player’s leaving, which has whirled the wheels of the rumour mill.

One could barely walk around the ground yesterday without someone enquiring as to why Shahzad and Yorkshire have parted company.

However, cricketing differences and personality clashes have featured prominently in a development that has drawn a mixed response.

After recalling Anthony McGrath to their starting XI, effectively in place of Shahzad, Yorkshire began this game unconvincingly.

They should have lost their first wicket with the total on four in the second over but Claude Henderson seemed fast asleep at mid-on as he dropped Joe Sayers from a miscued pull off Alex Wyatt.

Neither Wyatt nor, to a lesser extent, Robbie Joseph made Yorkshire play sufficiently in favourable conditions, although Joseph was parsimony personified, conceding only nine runs in his first eight overs.

And after having Sayers even more glaringly dropped on eight by Ramnaresh Sarwan at first slip, Joseph got his man next ball when Sayers was lbw pushing forward.

Perhaps on account of the fact his new ball attack had struggled for penetration, or perhaps because he simply felt the pitch would turn, Sarwan had introduced the left-arm spin of Claude Henderson after just 11 overs.

Henderson it was who took the second wicket with the total on 33, Phil Jaques falling lbw attempting to sweep.

Yorkshire lost their third wicket in just 23 deliveries when Joe Root, driving away from his body, was caught by Matthew Boyce at point off White, and although conditions appeared in the bowlers’ favour, with some movement on offer and the pitch rather stodgy, the feeling persisted that Yorkshire’s troubles were mainly of their own making.

Leicestershire, who finished far adrift at the foot of Division Two last season, have an attack that is capable of producing some good deliveries rather than what might be termed a good attack.

Gale wasted no time showing what could be achieved against them when he struck Nadeem Malik for successive offside fours which resonated sweetly around a sparsely-filled ground. Gale looked in fine fettle from the off but had a stroke of fortune just before lunch.

Sarwan spilled another opportunity at slip after Henderson got one to clip the edge of Gale’s bat.

Leicestershire grassed their fourth catch just after the interval when Bairstow, on 19, was dropped at second slip by Jacques Du Toit off Wyatt. It was a difficult opportunity but one that came back to haunt the visiting side as Bairstow steadily prospered in the biting weather.

One tends to judge Bairstow by the high standards he has set for himself, and he benefited initially from the odd close shave.

The 22-year-old was nearly caught at mid-on off a leading edge, hooked a six just beyond the reach of long leg and had to work hard to get his rewards.

However, the thumping strokes were soon in evidence – in particular an impudent leg-side flick for six off Wyatt, a pulled maximum off Malik and a straight six off Henderson into the Trafalgar Square end.

It was yet another resplendent innings, aggressively fashioned, and, as is invariably the case with Bairstow, was pleasing on the eye. Gale matched him blow for blow during a stand that served to rescue Yorkshire’s bacon. The captain was first to his fifty, reached from 84 balls with six fours, while Bairstow got there from 82 deliveries with four fours and two sixes.

A hundred by Gale seemed inevitable until he drove loosely at a wide one from White and was caught behind for 80, made from 133 balls.

Gary Ballance was fifth out with the total on 217 when he top-edged a pull off Malik to Boyce at square-leg, while McGrath played some pleasant strokes towards day’s end.

Yorkshire have put themselves into a commanding position as they chase their first victory of the season.