Yorkshire eye glory as Rafiq leads title challenge

WHAT a time to go top of the table for the first time this season.

Yorkshire moved to the summit of Division Two on the second day at Chelmsford, where they are well placed to record the victory that would guarantee promotion back to the First Division.

Yorkshire are 44-3 in their second innings, a lead of 179, and it will take a remarkable sequence of events now to stop them going up.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

For that to happen, Kent would have to beat Glamorgan at Cardiff and Yorkshire would have to draw or lose this match; however, as Kent are 33-2 following-on after being routed for 170 in reply to 390, it would take a remarkable effort to win from there, meaning Yorkshire are on course for elevation win, lose or draw.

Yorkshire ensured that victory here would be sufficient after they gained the maximum three bowling points to go with the three already garnered for batting.

A first innings total of 312, after they had begun the day on 284-8, secured three points for passing 300, while their ejection of Essex for 177 ensured the greatest possible bowling reward.

However, it could yet get even better for Andrew Gale and his players.

For if Derbyshire fail to score 250 in their first innings at Derby (they ended a rain-hit second day on 167-5 in reply to Hampshire’s 272), Yorkshire would be promoted as champions if they win this match even if Derbyshire also prevail; Yorkshire presently lead the table by two points having spent the summer looking up at their East Midlands rivals.

Azeem Rafiq, the 21-year-old off-spinning all-rounder, admitted Yorkshire are now on the brink of glory.

“We’re in a good position now,” said Rafiq, who completed his first half-century of the season yesterday before taking 3-65 from 15 overs.

“We want to win this game and get promotion, but we also want to be promoted as champions.

“I feel that we’ve been the best side in the league this season but the weather has let us down quite a lot. I think whatever score we end up getting from here will be hard for Essex to chase, and if they chase anything over 300 then we won’t deserve to go up.”

Rafiq, 49 overnight, was quickly to his half-century after play commenced in glorious sunshine.

He reached the milestone from 120 balls with just one four – testimony to the way he reined himself to take account of the match situation.

However, Rafiq was kicking himself when he was ninth out with the total on 299 – one run short of the magic 300 and another batting point.

Driving loosely at Graham Napier from the River Cam end, he edged to wicketkeeper James Foster having lifted his score to 53.

“We’ve played a lot of poor shots in this game,” he conceded.

“I personally feel that I’ve thrown my wicket away too many times this year and I don’t feel I’ve really been got out in any of the games. But it was good to get my first Championship fifty of the season and to make a contribution when it mattered. There was a little bit of spin out there for me as well, and the pitch is only going to get tougher to bat on.”

It was left to last man Moin Ashraf to bring up the 300, which he did by turning Napier to leg for a single – a run greeted with loud cheers from the Yorkshire supporters present.

The innings ended after 45 minutes’ play when Patterson was bowled by Napier as he tried to hit across the line.

Napier finished with 5-65 and was comfortably Essex’s best bowler, extracting pace and bounce from the surface.

Considering they had been 
166-6 on the opening day, Yorkshire’s achievement in almost doubling their total represented a decent fight back.

Patterson was soon impressing in his main guise, striking the first blow in the Essex first innings when he bowled Jaik Mickleburgh in the sixth over.

Patterson conceded only 11 runs in his opening spell of six overs before handing over to Rafiq, who pounced with his first ball when he pinned Tom Westley lbw.

Ashraf also gained an lbw victim in the form of Mark Pettini as Essex limped into lunch on 32-3, which became 34-4 to the second delivery after the break when Rafiq had Owais Shah caught at slip.

It meant three wickets had fallen in 14 balls either side of lunch but any thoughts that Essex would simply roll over were dispelled by Ryan ten Doeschate and James Foster, who frustrated Yorkhire for much of the afternoon.

Ten Doeschate was severe on Rafiq, striking him for two leg-side sixes – one soaring over long-on and into the River Cam – on his way to a half-century from 74 balls.

Foster kept him resilient company and had contributed 16 to their stand of 63 in 22 overs when he was lbw to the persevering Patterson.

Essex slipped to 119-6 when Sidebottom had Adam Wheater caught at mid-on from a miscued pull before another mini-collapse saw them plunge from 147-6 to 148-9.

It began when ten Doeschate was caught on the mid-wicket boundary for 62 off Rafiq and continued when Ashraf struck twice in successive balls to have Napier caught at second slip and Reece Topley lbw.

Some late swishing from Tymal Mills elevated Essex beyond the follow-on mark of 163, although Yorkshire later said they would not have enforced.

Instead they opted to build on their lead but lost three wickets to Napier in so doing – Joe Root caught at mid-wicket, Phil Jaques snaffled at slip and Andrew Gale pouched at point from an imprudent slice.

Scoreboards: Page 20.