Yorkshire grind out draw to earn vital points in relegation battle

WHERE's that chap with the crossbow when you need him?

Yorkshire's Shaun Marsh.
Yorkshire's Shaun Marsh.

The thought impishly crossed the mind as this match drifted to a docile draw.

The previous game at the Oval, of course, was abandoned on day four when a crossbow bolt was fired onto the square.

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As another draw swelled this ground’s seemingly never-ending total of them, the only winner was a flat pitch that could have done with a few arrow holes to liven it up, or a stick of dynamite beneath its unresponsive surface.

Not that Yorkshire were complaining that the pitch stayed true until hands were shaken.

The 2014/2015 champions went into day four on 59-1 in their follow-on, 139 runs behind, knowing that a fifth defeat of the season would have seen them drop into the relegation zone with two games left.

They showed great character to bat out the day under such pressure but remain in danger, sitting only two places and one point above that drop zone.

A visit from already doomed Warwickshire next week comes right on cue before they end their season at champions Essex, whom they will no doubt hope are by then contemplating some faraway beach.

Yorkshire's Alex Lees

After Yorkshire finished this game on 281-2, with Shaun Marsh (125 not out) and Alex Lees (102) helping themselves to classy centuries, director of cricket Martyn Moxon praised a solid batting display.

“The way that we’ve batted in our last two games now has been very pleasing,” he said, “and the challenge now is to maintain that for our final two matches.

“If we do, then we’ll hopefully finish as high up the table as possible.

“There’s a few clubs in the thick of it at the moment, but we’ve shown what we’re capable of with the right attitude and mindset, and the lads have batted well once again.

Yorkshire's Alex Lees

“We’ve just got to keep it going now for the last two weeks and continue the strides that we’ve been making.”

It is one of cricket’s oldest cliches that the first hour of any day is vital, but if there was to be a result in this match, one sensed that wickets had to fall from the get-go yesterday.

Despite the odd close shave, none materialised until over midway through the afternoon as Marsh and Lees lifted the score to 239, playing with ease and consummate skill.

Both batsmen were noticeably positive from the outset, refusing to let the bowlers dictate.

Marsh used his feet nicely to clip the left-arm spin of Freddie van den Bergh to the mid-wicket boundary, while Lees went down the track to the same bowler and smeared him to the mid-off rope in front of the pavilion, a stroke of bullying command.

Marsh, 27 overnight, soon went to his second half-century of the match from 129 balls with eight fours, while Lees, who resumed on 19, reached his fifty from 119 deliveries with seven fours.

Although Yorkshire’s position looked precarious at the start of the day, if one simply glanced at the scorecard from afar, a batting collapse was never likely on a pitch on which Surrey scored 592 before dismissing Yorkshire for 394 first time round.

If anything, the pitch seemed to get flatter, and although Surrey huffed and puffed with seam and spin, they never threatened to blow the Yorkshire house down.

Marsh, making his final appearance before returning to Australia, signed off with a performance that showed why Yorkshire recruited him.

Lees, whose hundred was his first in the tournament this season, and only his third time past 50 in 21 Championship innings, has been playing well in the second team lately, and he looked like a man in good form again, relishing his new role at No 3.

Lees added 215 in 67 overs with Marsh, eclipsing Yorkshire’s previous best second-wicket stand against Surrey of 196 between Herbert Sutcliffe and Edgar Oldroyd at this ground 95 years ago.

Lees fell in slightly unfortunate circumstances, hanging out his bat to a ball outside off stump from van den Bergh that he dragged back into his wicket.

The left-hander had gone to his hundred from 197 balls with 14 fours, moments after Marsh had reached three figures from 226 deliveries with 15 fours.

Marsh looked like he could have continued batting forever, his innings only ended when the umpires took the sides off for bad light one over into the evening session, never to return.

It was a blessing in disguise, with the Oval surface a poor advert for county cricket in an era of many competing attractions.

A total of 1,267 runs for 22 wickets across the four days told its own story.

It was not a story that will be fondly recalled by winter firesides, but Yorkshire will not be relegated if they continue to bat with such assurance.