THE combined age of Anthony McGrath and Ryan Sidebottom may be three score years and ten but neither player may yet be said to be past his sell-by-date.
McGrath, 36, and Sidebottom, 34, hauled Yorkshire out of a tricky hole at Headingley yesterday after it appeared the home team might be forced to follow-on.
The eighth-wicket pair added 84 in 25 overs to lift Yorkshire from 237-7 and comfortably past the follow-on mark of 278 after Hampshire totalled 427 in their first innings.
McGrath scored an unbeaten 106, his first century since the game against Hampshire at the Rose Bowl last August, while Sidebottom’s 34 was far more meaningful than it was statistically striking.
Sidebottom’s durability has never been in doubt; the left-armer was Yorkshire’s leading wicket-taker last summer with 62 at 22, while he has made a steady start to the current campaign with 13 County Championship victims.
McGrath’s permanence, however, has been slightly less palpable.
The former England all-rounder managed only 485 runs in 12 Championship games last year at 21 – the 10th-highest average of Yorkshire’s batsmen – and his place had come under increasing scrutiny.
But 17 years to the day since he made his Yorkshire debut against Glamorgan at Bradford, when he had the misfortune to be dismissed for a duck, McGrath rolled back the years with an innings that was important personally but more so for the team, helping Yorkshire to 399-9 declared before Hampshire ended day three on 21-1 in their second innings, a lead of 49.
When McGrath and Sidebottom were thrown together, as they have often been for Yorkshire over the years, the game appeared to be Hampshire’s for the seizing.
The home team, still 190 adrift, had just lost two quick wickets after Gerard Brophy spooned left-arm spinner Liam Dawson to mid-on and Adil Rashid had been bowled by David Balcombe.
But with the second new ball fast approaching, and with Dawson performing well from the Rugby Stand end, Hampshire captain Jimmy Adams took him off and brought back Kabir Ali to share the new cherry with Balcombe.
McGrath and Sidebottom seemed to thrive on the extra pace, and Yorkshire, who may or may not have prospered had Dawson stayed on, extricated themselves from potential trouble.
Sidebottom eventually perished to a catch behind off the persevering Kabir, but McGrath proceeded onwards and upwards.
There was a thumping straight six off Dawson when the spinner returned, along with many trademark well-punched drives and meaty leg-side clips.
Gradually, inexorably, the century came into view, but McGrath was still 16 runs away when the ninth wicket fell, Steve Patterson caught in the slips off Dawson.
However, last man Iain Wardlaw did a fine job in helping him to a milestone reached from 180 deliveries with 15 boundaries and one warmly applauded by the Headingley crowd.
The day had begun in typically overcast conditions and with Yorkshire 100-3, Phil Jaques and Gary Ballance the men in occupation.
Ballance edged the first ball of the morning through the slip cordon for four off an anguished Chris Wood, and, moments later, sliced the same bowler over the slips for another boundary to emphasise the challenging nature of batting conditions.
Ballance and Jaques, in fact, did extremely well to raise their second successive three-figure stand after their match-winning effort in Bristol last week, and it was not until 40 minutes before lunch that they were finally separated, Jaques falling seven short of his third Championship hundred of the season when he top-edged a sweep off Dawson to Balcombe just around the corner.
The partnership, worth 149 in 40 overs, had gone a long way towards helping Yorkshire out of danger – Ballance departing shortly afterwards when he was caught down the leg-side for 76 trying to help a ball from Sean Ervine to the fine-leg fence.
The dismissals of Brophy and Rashid not long after lunch, the latter after Balcombe had replaced the injured Sean Ervine, put the follow-on issue back in the mix before McGrath and Sidebottom diligently deployed all their experience and nous.
McGrath had two lives: he was dropped on 61 by Simon Katich at first slip off Kabir, which would have left Yorkshire 326-9, and again on 103 by Adams off Dawson from a mis-timed cover-drive, none of which detracted overly from a splendid display.
Hampshire’s fielding was not at its sharpest, with Wardlaw also reprieved by Kabir at mid-off off Balcombe before the No11 ended the innings by striking Balcombe for three successive fours.
Rashid claimed the wicket to fall in the Hampshire second innings, Dawson slapping a long hop to Jaques at point before bad light ended play with 2.4 overs remaining.