ROLL out the red carpet. Put the champagne on ice. Schedule the open-top bus parade.
Barring a slip-up of Devon Loch proportions, the County Championship is coming back to Yorkshire for only the second time since man first landed on the Moon.
On a picture-perfect day in Nottingham, Yorkshire took one small step for victory and one giant leap for the title against the only team that can deny them the prize.
At stumps on day one, their first innings score stood at 319-4, and Yorkshire’s first Championship since 2001, and only their second since 1968, looked all but signed, sealed and delivered by the Trent.
Once again, with almost wearisome predictability, Yorkshire’s hero was Adam Lyth.
The left-handed opener followed his career-best 251 in last week’s Championship Roses game with 122 to bat Yorkshire into a near-impregnable position.
Yorkshire will definitely clinch the Championship if they win this match, and they will do so if they draw it provided Nottinghamshire do not take three more bonus points.
As Yorkshire are already on course to achieve at least four of the five batting bonus points available, Nottinghamshire are effectively doomed unless they somehow force an improbable win.
With hindsight, second-placed Nottinghamshire’s challenge may prove to have been doomed from the moment Yorkshire’s acting captain Joe Root won the toss in ideal batting conditions.
Nottinghamshire’s only real chance, it seemed, was to do exactly what Yorkshire have done: bat first, rack up as many points as possible, and try to control the game from that point. Instead, their bowlers flogged for scant reward beneath sunny skies in unseasonably warm weather.
But as well as Yorkshire played, the hosts did not help themselves by dropping three catches in the morning session as Lyth and fellow opener Alex Lees laid a typically prodigious platform.
The first miss was the costliest.
The match was only one ball old when Lyth edged the second delivery, bowled by Luke Fletcher from the Pavilion End, low to wicketkeeper Chris Read’s left.
It was not a particularly easy chance, but nor was it especially difficult by the standards of one of the finest glovemen of his generation. One could almost hear, from behind the enclosed glass of the press box, Lyth’s sigh of relief when the catch was spilled, and thus was set the tone for a one-sided day.
Yorkshire, who made three changes to the XI that beat Lancashire, with Root, Gary Ballance and Tim Bresnan replacing Andrew Gale, Kane Williamson and Rich Pyrah, took advantage against a side who welcomed back Alex Hales and Harry Gurney for James Franklin and Ajmal Shahzad.
Lyth put his early scare behind him by cutting Fletcher for four and then upper-cutting him to the boundary in front of the Radcliffe Road Stand.
Lees was no less stylish, cover-driving the left-arm pace of Gurney towards the boundary in the direction of the Trent Bridge Inn and then easing the same bowler through point. The pitch was not dissimilar to the Trent Bridge featherbeds of yore, and Nottinghamshire did not help themselves with too many four-balls.
Lees was the beneficiary of the other dropped catches.
On 20, he was spilled by Riki Wessels at short-leg off Gary Keedy’s first ball from the Radcliffe Road End, a sharp chance that could so easily have stuck.
Particularly telling, though, was Lees’s reaction.
Whereas others would have retreated into their shell, at least temporarily, Lees danced down the track to lift the left-arm spinner’s third delivery over long-on for six, displaying the sort of positivity that has propelled Yorkshire to the top of the league.
Further boundaries followed as the batsmen traded blows before Lees was dropped again on 45. Once again, Wessels was the culprit at short-leg off Keedy.
Lees won the race to a half-century, reached from 66 balls with nine boundaries, Lyth getting there from 70 balls with nine fours.
Just when it seemed the openers might never be parted, Lees finally went to the Keedy-Wessels short-leg combination, the fielder diving one-handed to his right to take possibly a harder chance than the two he dropped.
Lees scored 86 from 136 balls with 13 fours and a six, and the opening stand was worth 176 in 48 overs.
On the ground where he scored his maiden first-class hundred in 2008, Lyth went to his sixth in this year’s Championship from 180 balls with 14 fours before falling to a return catch by Keedy.
Yorkshire lost two wickets towards the end when Root was lbw to Gurney to a ball that looked to be missing off stump, and Jonny Bairstow was brilliantly caught by Michael Lumb, diving one-handed to his left, in the gully off Fletcher.
Almost imperceptibly, like a thief in the night, Ballance advanced to an unbeaten 82, having earlier added 95 in 30 overs with the lissom Lyth.