Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss
Old fat, furry catpuss
Wake up and look at this thing that I bring
Wake up, be bright, be golden and light
Bagpuss, oh hear what I sing...
Midway through the slumbering afternoon, as this match was apparently going nowhere, it suddenly woke up like the saggy pink-and-white striped cat from the famous children’s television series.
As Essex wickets tumbled, the Yorkshire fielders – the mice on the mouse organ, perhaps – became increasingly animated, scurrying around everywhere, geeing each other up.
Captain Steve Patterson – Professor Yaffle, perchance – oversaw proceedings like a studious woodpecker.
And before the crowd knew it, everything had come to life like the toys in Emily’s shop of lost and broken things, the day going from sepia to colour in the blink of an eye.
For at 190-3 in reply to Yorkshire’s 390, and with not much more than a session and a day left for play, this game was heading towards obscurity faster than you could say “Gabriel the toad and Madeleine the rag doll”.
It will probably still arrive at a drawn destination, but in a mesmerising period either side of tea, Essex lost four wickets for seven runs inside 16 overs, plunging to 197-7 in pursuit of 241 to avoid the follow-on.
With weather having taken time from the match on day two, that was always the likeliest route to a victory for Yorkshire, but Essex avoided that threat by reaching 252-9, still 138 behind, on a third day when 12 overs were lost to bad light before a late evening resumption, Yorkshire giving everything to make them bat again.
One says “bad light”, but it was bad only in the sense that county cricket seems to view it as bad, which is to say, not that bad.
The Headingley crowd turned on umpires Neil Mallender and Steve O’Shaughnessy with some gusto, cries of “get a grip”, “disgraceful”, “joke”, and so on, intermingling with more colourful observations and a chorus of boos.
One could understand the spectators’ frustration; not only do they pay good money to attend, but they are the lifeblood of a tournament that needs all the spectators it can get.
When it comes to shooting itself in the foot, the sport in this country has few peers.
Perhaps the umpires feared a fatality had they deigned to carry on – not a flippant remark considering that Duanne Olivier, the Yorkshire fast bowler, earlier in the day hit a batsman on the helmet (Tom Westley) for the tenth time in the Championship this year.
Just ponder that for a minute… 10 struck on the helmet in less than five completed matches.
How there were not more deaths pre-helmets – notwithstanding the confidence that they now give batsmen to go for their shots – is a mystery to rival the curious objects brought before Bagpuss. Olivier “sconed” Westley when he had 17, but he showed admirable courage to go on to his team’s top score of 77, at which point he was third out at 132, caught behind off David Willey.
Resuming on 18-1, Essex did not lose a wicket until 20 minutes before lunch, which was delayed by 10 minutes to make up for time lost on day two, Nick Browne trapped lbw by Dom Bess.
In overcast conditions that augured well for bowlers, and with a stiff wind blowing the charcoal grey clouds, one might have expected better from the hosts in the morning session.
But Yorkshire were not at their best then and nor was their fielding; when Essex did eventually collapse, the home side had improved to the extent that they bowled nine consecutive maidens either side at tea.
The collapse began when Dan Lawrence flicked Olivier to Will Fraine at mid-wicket.
Bess had Ryan ten Doeschate and Simon Harmer caught at slip by Adam Lyth, and Willey had debutant Will Buttleman caught behind for a 37-ball duck.
Willey would have had Peter Siddle caught behind for a duck, too, but Jonny Tattersall grassed a chance that would have left Essex 197-8, Siddle going on to 39 and averting the follow-on with a straight six off Patterson.
Like Bagpuss, the wicketkeeper on that occasion was a bit “loose at the seams”. But Emily – or rather the Yorkshire crowd – loved him.