WHEN the fixtures were published last November Yorkshire would have envisaged ending their 150th anniversary season at The Oval yesterday with champagne celebrations on the players’ balcony.
They would have imagined waving to their pockets of supporters in front of the pavilion as Len Hutton once waved to the masses after the 1953 Ashes series and Michael Vaughan to those who congregated here in 2005.
They would have visualised being presented with the County Championship trophy and partying long into the September night.
Such are 150th anniversary fairytales made of, the stuff of dreams and sporting fantasies.
What they would not have envisaged is ending their sesquicentennial summer embroiled in a grim battle to avoid defeat against the Championship’s bottom club after conceding the second-highest total in that 150-year history.
But after Surrey declared 40 minutes into the final day on 634-5, a first innings lead of 200, Yorkshire spent much of an unseasonably warm and sunlit afternoon clinging on for dear life like Harold Lloyd dangling off the clock face in Safety Last!
One doubts whether Gary Ballance, a 23-year-old who hails from Zimbabwe, has even heard of Harold Lloyd, the great American silent movie star of the inter-war period.
But he displayed a similar facility for performing stunts as he steered Yorkshire from a position that was the cricketing equivalent of Lloyd imperilled on the skyscraper clock above fast-moving traffic, in the process becoming the first Yorkshire player since Younus Khan in 2007 to score two hundreds in a match.
When Ballance came to the crease in the fourth over after lunch, Yorkshire were 84-4 and Jonny Bairstow had just been trapped lbw by Tim Linley.
Yorkshire, whose dreams of winning the Championship had already evaporated after they confirmed a second-place finish in their previous match against Middlesex, were 116 runs behind and Surrey – already relegated to the Second Division – sniffed only their second win of the season as their corpse unexpectedly stirred.
But just when it looked as though Yorkshire might end their campaign in the same way that they began it, with a batting collapse reminiscent of their 96 all-out on the opening day against Sussex, Ballance helped avert a defeat that would have supplied an unworthy epitaph to an overwhelmingly successful summer.
The left-hander followed his first innings 148 with an unbeaten 108, striking the last ball of the season for six over mid-wicket off the left-arm spinner Zafar Ansari before the players shook hands at 4.45pm.
It was fitting that Ballance should have been there at the finish, for he was Yorkshire’s leading run-scorer in this year’s tournament with 1,251 at 62.55. Those are statistics that show why he will shortly be boarding a plane to Australia, where his graph could take a further upward curve.
Surrey showed enough to suggest that their stay in Division Two might only be fleeting, having failed to justify pre-season predictions they would challenge for the title. They fought strongly to prevent Yorkshire from ending their summer with a victory that would have given them a 50 per-cent win-rate in Championship games.
A draw was always the likeliest result when play began beneath sunny skies, with the match remarkably experiencing no interruptions despite it being the last week of September.
Surrey resumed on 572-4 on a flat pitch and by the time captain Gareth Batty pulled the plug only Leicestershire’s 681-7 dec at Bradford in 1996 stood as a higher score against Yorkshire in first-class matches.
Dominic Sibley, who began the day on 220 having become the Championship’s youngest double centurion at 18 years and 21 days, added another 22 to his tally before he was the fifth out, yorked by a splendid ball from Ryan Sidebottom.
Sibley, an A-level student at Whitgift School, faced 536 deliveries during a 10-hour innings that included 24 fours and two sixes.
Another to enter the record books – albeit for the wrong reasons – was Adil Rashid, the Yorkshire leg-spinner whose return of 2-227 from 55 overs was the county’s most expensive in first-class cricket, surpassing Richard Stemp’s 5-191 from 71 overs against Kent at Maidstone in 1998.
One of the biggest differences between the sides here was in the spin bowling department; where Ansari, in particular, was a constant threat, Rashid toiled manfully but to little avail.
Yorkshire’s second innings began badly when Adam Lyth fell to the sixth delivery, caught at second slip after playing back to a ball from Linley that seemed to rear on him.
Phil Jaques fell in the sixth over, chopping on to Matt Dunn for a single in what could prove to be his last innings for the county, and Yorkshire were in big trouble at 21-3 when Alex Lees pushed at Linley and was caught behind.
Bairstow and Kane Williamson played nicely, the latter scoring 60 from 70 balls before gloving a spiteful delivery from Batty to slip.
Andrew Gale held out for 24 overs in a stand of 65 with Ballance before turning Ansari to leg slip, whereupon Rashid showed great maturity to close out the match in company with Ballance.