But despite recording their lowest total for 45 years on the opening day, Yorkshire won by 91 runs half-an-hour before lunch on day three, the sort of fanciful turnaround that might persuade even a dyed-in-the-wool sceptic to believe in such things as UFOs and extraterrestrials.
It was Yorkshire’s lowest first innings total in victory since they scored 42 against Sussex at Hove in 1922, and a result that spoke volumes for their character and determination.
After Essex resumed on 97-4 in pursuit of 238, Yorkshire dismissed the champions for 146, Steve Patterson taking a career-best 6-40 and Ben Coad 3-36 to cap a remarkable comeback.
“I honestly was speechless at lunch on that first day,” admitted Andrew Gale, the Yorkshire first-team coach.
“How do you get bowled out in 18 overs when six out of your top eight have played international cricket?
“As a batter, you’re like, ‘how can that happen?’, and you naturally question yourself too.
“But to bounce back from it was incredible, and when I shook umpire Steve O’Shaughnessy’s hand afterwards he said that only Yorkshire could have won that game, and I think that we showed true Yorkshire grit.”
Yorkshire’s fightback – and their willingness to fight for Gale also – was clear as they produced a response worthy of potential champions.
The batting is clearly a work in progress, but there is talent aplenty to complement one of the country’s best pace attacks.
“We shouldn’t be getting out for 50, we know that,” said Gale. “We spoke on the second morning and I made a point of saying, ‘that’s unacceptable, that shouldn’t happen, even on a bad day’, but we parked it and fought tooth-and-nail to get back into the match.
“We batted much better second time, and the way that Jonny (Bairstow) came out and played positively after we promoted him to open helped set the tone and change the game.
“Rooty (Joe Root) mentioned it first (Bairstow opening), and then me, Rooty and Gary (Ballance) sat down and agreed on the idea, with Jonny then rising to the challenge in typical fashion.”
After Bairstow’s half-century and a maiden hundred from Harry Brook helped Yorkshire to 329 in their second innings, the game was beautifully poised when play began yesterday in glorious sunshine.
The hosts needed a further 141 with six wickets left, with Ryan ten Doeschate and Dan Lawrence taking their overnight stand from 42 to 59 before Yorkshire dramatically turned the screw.
Coad was the catalyst from the River End, the pace bowler taking 3-0 in 11 balls to effectively end Essex’s hopes.
Ten Doeschate was pinned lbw propping forward before James Foster was caught behind by wicketkeeper Bairstow standing up and Simon Harmer trapped lbw stuck on the crease.
When Patterson bowled Lawrence as he tried to hit a straight ball through mid-wicket the bowler had his fifth victim and Essex had lost 4-0 in 23 deliveries to plunge to 114-8.
Patterson’s sixth wicket followed when he removed Jamie Porter lbw and Tim Bresnan rounded things off by trapping Peter Siddle, sparking jubilant scenes among the visiting players.
Defeat was Essex’s first in 19 Championship games dating back to September 2016 and cast doubt on their ability to retain the title.
They failed to capitalise after responding to Yorkshire’s 50 all-out with only 142 themselves, and they never threatened the victory target after Yorkshire had lost their last seven second innings wickets for 53 when a 300-plus chase had looked on the cards.
It was fitting that Patterson should help clinch the win with figures that eclipsed his previous best of 6-56 against Durham at Chester-le-Street in 2016.
He epitomises the “true Yorkshire grit” of which Gale spoke, and when he bowled Alastair Cook on the second evening Patterson had his 350th first-class scalp and his 500th in all forms of cricket.
“It was nice to get the career-best, but for me it’s just nice to be back playing with the lads,” said Patterson, who was making his first appearance of the season after a broken finger. “It’s been a frustrating couple of weeks sat on the sidelines, so it’s great to be back out on the field.
“It was a difficult first day for us; that first session was probably the worst session of cricket I’ve ever been involved in, but I thought that the courage and belief we showed from that moment on was pretty impressive.
“There were a lot of people who stood up at tough times and made important contributions, and, thankfully, a couple of days later, we came away with the win.”