A CAPACITY crowd and an age-old rivalry – one could have been forgiven for thinking the Ashes had started early.
In four days’ time, England and Australia go head-to-head in the first Test at Nottingham; while the format of cricket will be somewhat superior, the atmosphere could hardly be any more charged than it was last night for Yorkshire against Lancashire.
In gentle winds and glorious sunshine, with the famous old ground awash with colour, some 15,000 spectators descended on Headingley for Yorkshire’s showpiece match of the season.
It was the first time the club had sold out a county fixture since the corresponding game in 2004, and those who came were rewarded with a nail-biting finish, the rivals sharing a dramatic tie.
After being sent into bat, Yorkshire made 152-6, Phil Jaques top-scoring with an unbeaten 66.
It was a below-par total and Lancashire looked to be coasting towards it at 92-2 in the 12th over, only for Yorkshire to hit back in excellent fashion.
The equation boiled down to 10 runs wanted from the final over, bowled by Ryan Sidebottom, and Lancashire’s sixth-wicket pair of Steven Croft and Kabir Ali could manage only nine.
When Sidebottom restricted Croft to two runs off the last delivery, from which Lancashire needed three for victory, he celebrated as though he thought Yorkshire had prevailed before the reality dawned that the spoils had been shared.
In truth, the one point gained suited neither side.
Yorkshire had lost their opening two matches in the competition and Lancashire two of their opening three.
That said, it was a game neither team deserved to win nor deserved to lose.
For Yorkshire, it represented something to build on before Tuesday’s game against Leicestershire at Headingley.
On a pitch with sufficient pace to allow batsmen to swing their arms and get right through the ball, Andrew Gale and Jaques began the match with a solid opening stand of 32.
Gale lofted Mitchell McClenaghan, the 27-year-old New Zealand pace bowler, for six over mid-wicket into the North East Stand, sending the West Stand into paroxysms of joy.
Jaques, playing his first game for almost a month after a stomach injury, and the only change to the side that lost against Durham at Scarborough last Sunday in place of Adam Lyth, showed all his experience to work the ball around as the game took shape in the balmy early evening.
The Australian left-hander, Yorkshire’s second-highest run-scorer in last year’s competition behind David Miller, showed that Twenty20 is not just about out-and-out slogging.
Authentic batting has its place also, Jaques square-driving Glen Chapple for four and then flicking him to the mid-wicket boundary with the grace of a Gower.
Yorkshire’s problem, however, was that no sooner did batsmen get in than they promptly got out, Gale setting the tone when he was first to fall after reaching 18, caught behind chasing a wide one off Tom Smith.
Dan Hodgson announced himself by flicking Smith over mid-wicket towards the West Stand – and then reproached himself after skying Stephen Parry to Simon Katich at mid-wicket.
Parry, the 27-year-old left-arm spinner, put the skids on Yorkshire and prevented the batsmen finding their rhythm.
Arron Lilley, the 22-year-old off-spinning debutant, was also parsimonious, picking up the third wicket to fall when Adil Rashid – promoted to No.4 – fell lbw reverse-sweeping.
The eight overs from Parry and Lilley cost only 43 runs, their efforts going a long way to restricting Yorkshire to a chaseable score.
Gary Ballance played one of the shots of the night when he lofted Croft over mid-wicket into the West Stand, swiftly followed by one of the least inauspicious when he hoisted the same bowler down the throat of deep mid-wicket.
After Jaques reached fifty from 46 balls, Yorkshire slipped to 123-5 in the 17th over when Liam Plunkett – promoted to No 6 – connected sweetly with a straight drive off Kabir Ali only to pick out Croft at long-on; two balls earlier, the same fielder had dropped him when he palmed the ball over the crossbar for six.
Rich Pyrah was run out from the penultimate delivery of the innings when he tried to run a bye to the wicketkeeper, Andrew Hodd finding the boundary from the final ball with a Chinese cut off Kabir Ali.
Lancashire were given a flying start by Tom Smith, who smashed 24 off a Jack Brooks over.
However, after fellow opener Stephen Moore was caught at mid-on, Smith drove to mid-off – the first of three wickets for the excellent Pyrah.
The all-rounder sparked Lancashire’s demise from 92-2 when he bowled Simon Katich and Karl Brown in successive overs, the visitors managing only 20 runs between the 10th and 15th overs.
Plunkett bowled Gareth Cross with the score at 118 and despite Croft’s unbeaten 42 from 28 balls, Lancashire pulled up fractionally short.