How else to describe the Roses game which, as every devotee of Yorkshire and Lancashire knows, is – and always has been – the top ticket in town.
Even so, one was especially keen to get the first day’s play over with in good time for the 8pm kick-off between England and Italy in the final of the Euros, with most County Championship days running well beyond the scheduled 6pm finish.
It was 6.19pm when the last ball was bowled (a minor miracle by modern standards) – cue the mad scramble to get home or to the nearest pub to watch the second-biggest sporting event of the year... well, as much as a Yorkshire membership with an average age of 69 can mad scramble to anywhere.
When the cricketers walked off on a clammy Leeds evening, it was Lancashire who could reflect on the better of events. After being sent into bat in cloudy conditions, which Lancashire’s James Anderson would no doubt have relished against a Yorkshire top-order that has struggled this season, the Red Rose reached 273-2.
Keaton Jennings led the way with 132, the former England opener having also struck a hundred in Lancashire’s innings win over Yorkshire at Old Trafford in May, and Alex Davies made 84. The pair shared 163 for the first wicket, having put on 104 in that match in Manchester.
Rich Pyrah, the Yorkshire bowling coach, said: “I think Patto (captain Steve Patterson) was set on batting, and then the clouds came in this morning, just before the toss, and he changed his mind with five minutes to go and thought that we might have a chance of bowling them out.
“The first hour of play I thought we bowled really well. There was enough in the pitch; we just didn’t get the nicks we deserved and I thought they played really well too.
“As we know at Headingley, if you get past the new ball, it gets a little bit slower, and the ball gets a bit softer, and it’s a good time to bat. We didn’t capitalise on that first hour, which has cost us in the end.”
By curious coincidence, Yorkshire and Lancashire were also starting a County Championship match – albeit at Old Trafford – on July 30, 1966, when England beat West Germany in the World Cup final.
One should have known that something was in the air that day because Geoffrey Boycott was out for a duck, caught Worsley bowled Lever – a once-in-a-blue-moon event, if ever there was one.
For the record, Yorkshire reached 50-3 in the only play possible before going on to win by 12 runs after a spot of collusion that included a second innings forfeiture. And, in a happy omen perhaps for Patterson’s class of 2021, albeit not so much on yesterday’s evidence, Yorkshire went on to win the title that year too as Brian Close – rather than Bobby Moore – lifted the most important trophy of the summer.
By winning the toss yesterday, Patterson extended a remarkable sequence. He has now won nine tosses in 10 Championship matches this season; the only time that he has not done so was against Northants at Headingley.
Yorkshire, who have won 17 out of 21 tosses in total this summer, if you include the T20, got the ball to move early on beneath slate-grey skies, which one feels are always the most appropriate ceiling beneath which these give-’em-nowt Roses contests should be played.
However, the pitch played well too and apart from the odd absolute jaffa, and the odd injudicious stroke, Lancashire were comfortable during a morning session in which they reached 96-0 in 31 overs.
The first wicket did not fall until 3.25pm, some 20 minutes before tea, Jordan Thompson trapping Davies lbw on the walk as he tried to push down the ground. Davies hit 14 fours, most of them in front of square on both sides of the wicket, and faced 173 balls, Lancashire going into tea on 176-1 from 64 overs, by which time the floodlights had been enlisted to help lift the gloom.
Earlier, Davies and Jennings were certainly challenged by the new-ball pair of Ben Coad and Dom Leech, the latter chosen for only his third first-class match in place of overseas fast bowler Duanne Olivier, who has a sore back. Pyrah pronounced himself pleased with Leech’s efforts.
Jennings is a class act, as he proved once again, driving powerfully down the ground and using his feet well to spinner Dom Bess. He fell somewhat tamely to the second new ball, patting back a return catch to Thompson, and Yorkshire would have had a third wicket in the closing stages but Adam Lyth dropped Luke Wells on 31 at second slip off Coad, the ball perhaps dying on the fielder.