IF county cricket exists for the benefit of the England team, which is what we are always being told, then we might as well get all reference to the national interest out of the way.
On the second day of the County Championship match at Headingley, Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth made a third-ball duck and his England colleague Gary Ballance failed to emerge from his run-scoring drought.
Ballance fell for 14 as Yorkshire reached 302-3 in reply to Nottinghamshire’s 224, the left-hander flicking a ball from Australian pace bowler Ben Hilfenhaus into the hands of Samit Patel at leg gully.
Since scoring a brace of fifties against the West Indies in Grenada, Ballance has managed 177 runs in 12 innings in all cricket with a top score of 31. It is a testing period for a talented player.
Lyth, who has no such issues, perished lbw to Stuart Broad, who looked in decent rhythm ahead of the Ashes.
The pace bowler, whose charging run to the crease is one of the more arresting sights in cricket, was the pick of Notts’ attack, later adding the scalp of Alex Lees – whose middle stump was sent somersaulting – en route to figures of 2-55 from 17 overs in easing batting conditions.
Such matters dutifully recorded, we can now move on to the main business at hand – Andrew Gale and Jack Leaning.
Gale may never ascend to the highest level, but the Yorkshire captain is the next best thing, an extremely solid county pro who averages not far short of 40 in the first-class game.
Had Gale spent most of his career playing against Notts, however, he might well have won full international honours.
His unbeaten 144 means that four of his 18 first-class hundreds have come against them, to go with an innings of 99.
Leaning, who hit an undefeated 107, may well ascend to the highest level one day, and this was the 21-year-old’s third Championship century of the season – and his second against Notts – as he and Gale helped Yorkshire dominate.
Gale, who passed 7,000 first-class runs during the course of his innings, paid tribute to his junior partner, saying: “There is no better young batsman than Jack in the longer form at the minute.
“It’s very early to say that he’s going to play international cricket, but I suspect that the Lions or the EPP (England Performance Programme) will come knocking throughout the winter.
“Jack is going from strength to strength and is so calm for a kid of 21. He looks the all-round package, and who knows where he can go.”
Of his own innings, Gale said: “I’ve felt in good touch for the last month or so without making a big score.
“Notts seem to be the team that I get runs against, but whether it was Notts or someone else, I felt like a big one was just around the corner.
“I pride myself on contributing when the team need me. Now I want to go and get a double hundred.”
When Gale came to the crease, Yorkshire had just lost Ballance on the stroke of lunch following Lyth’s first Championship duck since the corresponding match 12 months ago.
Yorkshire were 28-2 and it had not been the greatest morning for them; after Notts resumed on 169-8, some handy tail-end biffing saw them add 55 runs in 50 minutes before the innings finally finished.
Luke Wood and Hilfenhaus stretched their ninth-wicket stand from 10 overnight to 65 with some entertaining strokes.
Hilfenhaus lofted one ball from Steve Patterson over long-on into the old pavilion as Gale and his men were initially frustrated.
It took that serial wicket-taker Jack Brooks to bring the biffing to a close, the pace man bowling Wood and then uprooting Jake Ball’s middle stump three balls later.
Brooks walked off with 4-56 from 14.5 overs, and with 31 wickets to his credit at 21.87, he is well on the way to getting somewhere near – or perhaps even bettering – his tally of 68 in last year’s tournament.
The day had yet to take decisive form when Gale and Leaning were pitched together at 51-3 following those dismissals of Lyth, Ballance and Lees.
The pair played wonderfully, marrying determined defence with controlled strokes as the pitch dried out in the afternoon sun.
At tea, they had taken Yorkshire to 163-3 and they were no less dominant in the final session, extending their stand to 251 by stumps to eclipse the county’s previous highest fourth-wicket partnership against Notts of 210 by Ted Lester and Willie Watson at Trent Bridge in 1952.
Gale reached his century from 153 balls, while Leaning got there from 155 deliveries with a six over long-on off Patel.
The only blot on Yorkshire’s day was the news that Aaron Finch, the Australian batsman who was taken to hospital after falling injured during the second team game at Worcestershire on Monday, may have suffered a bruised lung.
Finch inside-edged a ball into his rib area and the club was last night awaiting the outcome of a second scan.
Scoreboard: Page 22.