Ballance and Bresnan help to put Yorkshire in charge

Yorkshire's Gary Ballance celebrates his century against Middlesex at North Marine Road, Scarborough (Picture: Allan McKenzie/'s Gary Ballance celebrates his century against Middlesex at North Marine Road, Scarborough (Picture: Allan McKenzie/
Yorkshire's Gary Ballance celebrates his century against Middlesex at North Marine Road, Scarborough (Picture: Allan McKenzie/
IT WOULD have been physically impossible for Yorkshire to have made a worse start to this match.

Adam Lyth fell to the first ball of it – caught behind as he tried to withdraw his bat to a delivery from Tim Murtagh that feathered the blade – at a ground where he scored a 60-ball century on his last appearance here against Northants last month.

Funny old game, as someone once said...

Thereafter, it would have been physically impossible for Yorkshire to have done too much better on a hard-fought opening day as they worked themselves into a good position at 291-5.

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Granted, in an ideal world they would have lost no more wickets, but such an expectation was clearly unrealistic.

Given Lyth’s instant departure, the strength of the opposition, and the fragility of their own top-order batting over a good season and a half, Yorkshire could be well satisfied with where they found themselves at stumps.

Those with particular reason for satisfaction were Messrs Gary Ballance, Tim Bresnan and Alex Lees, each of whom made fine contributions.

Ballance led the way with an unbeaten 106, his first Championship century since last August, while Bresnan and Lees both hit 63, the latter making his highest score in a home Championship match since August 2014.

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The key stand was between Ballance and Bresnan, who added 126 for the fifth-wicket in 42 overs.

Ballance played solidly all around the ground, while Bresnan was equally competent in making his third half-century in five Championship innings.

After Yorkshire won the toss in sunny conditions, Lyth’s departure stunned not only himself but also a crowd that climbed to 3,203.

The left-hander practically had to drag himself off after departing in the most unfortunate manner, leaving the field to sympathetic applause.

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Yorkshire, who recalled pace bowler Jack Brooks after a quad injury and left out batsman Jack Leaning, embarked on a period of consolidation against probing new-ball bowling from Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones.

Lees and Kane Williamson proved up to the task, and they played resolutely on a good batting pitch, albeit one that offered just enough to keep bowlers interested.

Lees has looked good in recent days – he hit 71 and 74 in the previous Championship match at Durham.

Yesterday, he flicked Murtagh off his pads for the day’s first boundary, and then off-drove him quite exquisitely to the Peasholm Park rope.

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Williamson is making his second Championship appearance after rejoining the club as an overseas player at the ground where he made his solitary hundred for Yorkshire – 189 against Sussex in 2014.

The New Zealander proceeded at his usual unruffled pace and produced a crisp cut to the boundary off Roland-Jones as Yorkshire steadily took control.

It looked as though the second-wicket pair would survive until lunch, but, with the total on 85, Williamson fell in similar fashion to Lyth when he tried to withdraw his bat to James Franklin and was caught behind.

So ended a promising innings and a plucky partnership, with Lees in particularly eye-catching touch.

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This was highlighted by a number of handsome drives – particularly through the offside – and a brace of sixes off spinner Ollie Rayner.

The first over long-off was brilliantly caught by a spectator on the back row of the Peasholm Park Stand; the second was swept over mid-wicket with timing and power.

A feature of Lees’s innings, however, was that he did not try to hit too hard and let the ball come on to his bat.

He reached his half-century just before lunch from 70 balls and looked set for a big one before edging Murtagh to second slip not long into the afternoon session.

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Andrew Gale’s first-class record at Scarborough going into this game was 1,358 runs at 52.23, but it did not prove a happy hunting ground for him yesterday.

The Yorkshire captain scored seven before playing across a full delivery from Roland-Jones that trapped him lbw, leaving the hosts 131-4.

At that stage, Middlesex – for whom Murtagh bowled well and Steven Finn generated plenty of pace – had a chance to grab the game by the scruff of the neck.

Instead, it was Ballance and Bresnan who did the grabbing, taking Yorkshire to 183-4 at tea, Ballance reaching a 121-ball half-century in the final over before the break.

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Practically from the moment he arrived at the crease, Ballance looked like a man who had an appointment with a hundred.

The 26-year-old had been seeking one since the start of the English season; his last hundred in any form of cricket had come in the Champion County match against MCC in Abu Dhabi in March.

Bresnan was bowled by Murtagh with the second new ball, ending a 123-ball innings that included 10 fours, but successive fours off Murtagh took Ballance to three-figures.

It was a milestone warmly applauded by team-mates, opponents and the crowd.