Pietersen’s return put firmly into shadows by Gale and Ballance

RARELY in their 150-year history can Yorkshire have been involved in a match in which the wider interest going into it has been so heavily on matters relating to the opposition.

Kevin Pietersen

Kevin Pietersen’s long-awaited return from a knee injury compelled an office-worth of journalists to travel north to check on his progress ahead of the first Ashes Test on July 10.

Typically – and how the man himself must have chuckled at the inconvenience of it – Yorkshire batted all day and Pietersen spent his time fielding at mid-on or mid-off, only leaving his station to deliver four overs of gentle off-spin during the afternoon and later for a comfort break in the evening.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It was a low-key comeback for a man who had not played since March and one upstaged by Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale, who continued his prolific run with an unbeaten 114, and by Gary Ballance, who celebrated his maiden England call-up with 90 as the hosts scored 292-5 after being sent into bat.

This was also to have been Ricky Ponting’s penultimate first-class game after the former Australia captain announced he would be retiring from all forms of cricket in October.

Sadly for Surrey – but perhaps more so for a 2,500 crowd who would no doubt love to have seen him play here one last time – Ponting withdrew through injury at the 11th hour.

According to the Surrey Twitter feed, Ponting “woke up with a sore hand”.

Mischievously, one wondered whether it had been caused by all those throw downs to Pietersen the previous day, a practice drill that compelled Pietersen to tweet: “Today’s net was possibly one of the best I’ve ever had... The GREAT Ricky Ponting giving me throw downs... He wants me in form for the Ashes! Oops!”

Finally, if all the focus on Pietersen and Ponting was not enough, Surrey just happened to have sacked team director Chris Adams and first-team coach Ian Salisbury on Monday after the club failed to win any of their opening eight Championship games.

Former England batsman Alec Stewart took charge of the side for the first time at Leeds, his remit to save a club that many had tipped for the title from tipping out of Division One altogether.

Amid the avalanche of attention surrounding Surrey, one could have been forgiven for forgetting that Yorkshire are actually top of the division and well placed to mark their 150th anniversary in the best way possible.

Perhaps it was no bad thing for them to slip under the radar but once Surrey chose to bowl on an overcast and muggy morning – thus condemning the majority of journalists present to a wasted trip – the home side set about taking centre stage and consigning Pietersen to a bit-part role.

With Ballance and pace bowler Jack Brooks back in their ranks after illness and injury respectively, Yorkshire began confidently to cast doubt on Surrey’s decision to insert.

Adam Lyth and Alex Lees – the latter fresh from a maiden Championship century at Lord’s – negotiated with aplomb the opening bursts of Chris Tremlett and Jon Lewis before feasting on the back-up seam of Tim Linley and Zander de Bruyn.

Twice Lyth cover drove de Bruyn to the East Stand boundary to spark purrs of appreciation from spectators and even tacit recognition from Pietersen, who slowly mimicked one of the shots from his fielding position.

Lyth was sumptuous, Lees solid; the pair had just completed their half-century stand when bad light forced an early lunch at 12.30pm. If Lyth has an Achilles heel, it is not his strokeplay but his stickability.

No one – perhaps not even Pietersen – could have played more stylishly before Lyth suddenly perished for 41 when he edged Tremlett to second slip.

Lees, perhaps betraying a touch of inexperience, fell in the next over when he tried to whip a full-length ball from de Bruyn through the leg-side, missed and was lbw.

When a crease-bound Joe Sayers played back to Linley and was pouched at first slip, Yorkshire were 77-3 in the 34rd over and a good position seemed to be sliding.

It continued a wretched run for Sayers, whose popularity is barely reflected in Championship scores this season of 1, 24, 1, 1, 1 and 5.

If there has been a common thread running through Yorkshire’s campaign, however, it is that someone has invariably stood up at key times.

On this occasion it was Gale and Ballance, who initially entrenched themselves defiantly before expressing themselves deliciously.

Gale is a batsman reborn.

This latest century, full of flowing drives and fierce commitment, followed scores of 272 and 103 in the previous two Championship matches.

Ballance was cool and composed, adding 204 with his captain in 56 overs before falling lbw to Lewis, who then had Adil Rashid caught at second slip.

Gale offered just one hint of a chance. On 95, he miscued Gary Keedy agonisingly over the backpedaling man at mid-off. The fielder just failed to hold an extremely tough catch.

It was the closest we really came to noticing Kevin Pietersen.