Yorkshire revelling in role of promotion contender

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GIVEN anything like fine weather and a favourable wind, Yorkshire will today complete their third victory in four County Championship games.

Thus they would climb back to second in the table, hot on the heels of leaders Derbyshire.

On a third day that began one hour late after patchy rain, Yorkshire turned the screw to highlight the gulf in class that exists between themselves and their opponents.

For after failing to post a competitive score after winning the toss, and subsiding to a sorry 253, Northamptonshire were similarly exposed with the ball as Yorkshire replied with 416 before reducing their rivals to 43-1 before bad light ended play with 10 overs remaining.

One of sport’s most hackneyed clichés is that you can only beat the opposition in front of you, and, assuming they go on to achieve the result their performance merits, Yorkshire will deserve credit for having established themselves as strong promotion contenders as their four-day campaign nears its halfway stage – a landmark that will be reached on completion of next week’s game against Glamorgan at Colwyn Bay.

At the same time, neither Leicestershire or Gloucestershire, the teams they have beaten so far, nor an injury-hit Northamptonshire have possessed sufficient strength in bowling to overly trouble a team who, in Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and Gary Ballance, possess three of the finest young batsmen in England along with sundry other players more than capable of advancing their averages.

On the evidence of what we have seen so far, which has admittedly not been as much as we would like in this soggiest of summers, Yorkshire are firmly on course to fulfil club president Geoffrey Boycott’s justified insistence that promotion is a minimum requirement following the embarrassment last season of relegation.

Indeed, it is difficult to look much beyond Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Kent as principal pretenders to fill the two promotion places in a division in which such as Leicestershire and Glamorgan can already be written-off as promotion non-runners, hopelessly marooned at the rear of the field.

The first item of business yesterday was the acquisition of the two runs needed by Root to score his first hundred at Headingley and his second in the Championship, following his 160 last summer against Sussex at Scarborough.

They duly arrived from the third delivery of the dank and dreary day, the opening batsman purposely persuading a ball from Lee Daggett to the third man boundary to register his 11th four from his 137th delivery faced.

It had been a splendid effort by Root, who celebrated by square-driving Daggett for a powerful four that would have elicited purrs of approval from James Whitaker, the watching England selector.

However, one did not need a degree in deduction to conclude that Whitaker’s primary interest was in the performance of Bairstow, who resumed on 36 and was soon whipping Daggett to the mid-wicket boundary as he aimed to impress ahead of next week’s final Test against the West Indies at Edgbaston.

Bairstow went to his half-century from 92 balls with eight fours before Root perished for 125 on the stroke of lunch, well caught by wicketkeeper David Murphy standing up to Andrew Hall off a ball that climbed sharply.

The fourth-wicket stand had been worth 147 in 32 overs and Bairstow would have fancied his chances of following Root to three-figures before he played across a ball from Hall and was bowled for 68 from 137 deliveries with 10 fours.

Ballance contributed 24 in an hour-and-a-half before falling to a bat-pad catch as Yorkshire became somewhat becalmed after lunch, the prelude to a dynamic innings from Azeem Rafiq, who flailed 37 from 44 balls before falling to a catch behind as he attempted to cut.

Rafiq, playing his first Championship game for Yorkshire for nearly two years, is no mug with the willow, as evidenced by his century against Worcestershire at New Road in 2009, and some of his strokes yesterday were essayed with the type of elaborate flourish that puts him very firmly into the category of promising all-rounder.

Anthony McGrath, an all-rounder playing his 250th first-class match, chipped in with 47 from 98 balls before perishing lbw to David Willey.

Yorkshire were indebted to some lusty hitting from Championship debutant Mitchell Starc to lift them to 400 and to maximum batting points for the first time in almost two years.

With 25 overs still left in the day when last man Steve Patterson was bowled by James Middlebrook, some Yorkshire supporters might have speculated whether a three-day finish might just have been achievable with an extra half-hour, but Northamptonshire lost only one wicket before stumps.

Starc pinned Middlebrook lbw with his fourth delivery to leave the visitors 15-1 in the seventh over, Stephen Peters and Kyle Coezter averting further alarms before the light eventually closed in around the ground.