Northamptonshire 204 (Gay 65, Thompson 4-54) and 318 for 7 (Young 96, McManus 62*) drew with Yorkshire 296 (Brook 84, Malan 64, Thompson 51, Berg 5-58) and 406 for 3 dec (Hill 151*, Malan 75, Lyth 53)
“Yorkshire set for victory against Northamptonshire” had been one morning headline, but as the Tykes contingent came down to breakfast, they would not have been that confident. Their third-day declaration had indicated their fear that it was going to be a hard slog and there was no certainty that they had the pace attack to flourish. Any such pessimism proved justifiable as Northants refused to yield on a placid surface.
There were many shakes of head from the county’s travelling savants when Yorkshire failed to declare at tea on the third day when the lead was 452. Northants had never managed more than 411 in the fourth innings in their history. No side had ever chased more than 472 in the fourth innings of the Championship – Middlesex to beat Yorkshire eight years ago. In defiance of such statistics, Yorkshire opted to top-load rapidly until they led by 498, smacking of a side not confident in its bowling resources. In their defence, the docility of the fourth-day pitch did suggest that offering a more chaseable target would have been strewn with pitfalls.
Allowing yourself 120 overs to bowl out the opposition seems ample, a view expressed afterwards by Yorkshire’s coach, Ottis Gibson. Eight points for a draw also makes any declaration a 50-50 gamble – eight points risked for eight points gained – a far less attractive proposition than it once was. Yorkshire, furthermore, still have the threat of points deductions hanging over their head as the Azeem Rafiq racism enquiry limps on. And everyone has to rock up and do this all again on Thursday as the counties try to negotiate what essentially on these deliberately-demanding, educational pitches are the equivalent of seven back-to-back Test matches. It is only a few years since two successive Test matches for England were regarded as an onerous undertaking. Already, around the counties, there are almost as many absent pace bowlers as there are those available.
Had Young’s edge against Haris Rauf, on 3, been held the previous evening by the wicketkeeper Harry Duke, the story might have been different. Duke flung himself to his right in the fourth over of the innings and failed to hold a tough, dipping catch. It was not his first blemish while keeping to Rauf this season as he comes to terms with his extra pace.
Young’s Test career had a blip with three single-figure scores against South Africa in two Christchurch Tests in February, but he enjoyed a brief stint with Durham last season and he ticked along in risk-free fashion, leg-side singles to the fore, until he was sixth out with 26 overs remaining. Yorkshire managed only one more success as Northants went on to establish their highest fourth-innings score against Yorkshire.
In the injury absence through injury of Matty Fisher and Ben Coad, and with David Willey’s impact being made at Royal Challengers Bangalore, the pedigree was lacking. Rauf has the firepower to unsettle batters on the most docile of surfaces, but his first-class experience is scant and at times his self-admonishment at not quite getting it right was clear to see. His last act, appropriately enough, was to kick at the ball in frustration. As for Fisher, he is out for a month with a “stress reaction” in his back (a possible precursor to a stress fracture) and will regain fitness, conveniently, just in time to be considered for the international summer.
The rest of Yorkshire’s pace attack was a bit of a patched-up affair. The seasoned skipper, Steve Patterson, was supported by Jordan Thompson, who failed to repeat his threat in the first innings and two batters-turned-allrounders, Matthew Revis and George Hill.
Revis had an excellent game – three wickets in each innings, and proof of his all-round usefulness that might well have kick-started his county career. But it was illustrative that most threat was carried by a player whose first-class record amounted to 2 for 19 against Nottinghamshire last September, and who hadn’t really thought of himself as a bowler until the former Yorkshire bowling coach, Richard Pyrah, proposed it two winters ago. He cranked it up to 81mph more than once and that was beyond all but Rauf, with Thompson markedly down on pace.
Three morning wickets and Yorkshire’s victory would seem feasible. They duly delivered that number with Rauf roughing up Northants’ top order to good effect. Ricardo Vasconcelos, who has yet to find batting form as captain, fended a chest-high ball to gully. The short ball that removed Emilio Gay in Rauf’s next over was more waspish – a straight, head-high delivery which Gay, a tall, stately figure, played well enough, apart from the fact he plopped it into the hands of Dom Bess at short leg. Revis had his first wicket of the day when he seamed one across Saif Zaib for Duke to hold the catch.
Young found redoubtable support from Rob Keogh in a fifth-wicket stand of 99 in 39 overs during which Yorkshire experimented with Dawid Malan’s legspin; no turn there either. Hill had Keogh caught at short extra off a leading edge with the first ball he bowled and it may be a long time before he bowls to such attacking fields again.
Bess’ offspin is a key component, a player with England ambitions. But he carried little threat, his one moment of delight coming when he did straighten one to have the left-hander, Luke Procter, lbw. When he first burst on to the scene as Jack Leach’s partner in crime at Somerset, he had a shorter, fuss-free run. Now he has a longer, but halting run, coming to a stop halfway through his approach to make the first part appear superfluous.
Yorkshire found no joy with the second new ball. Rauf resorted to yorkers and bouncers but was repelled. Instead, it was Revis who struck twice more, first Young then the Australian Matthew Kelly, yorked. Kelly had almost run himself out attempting a madcap single, but Thompson’s throw was off target. It would have taken something random for Yorkshire to win this. Instead, the sides shook hands on a stalemate and, bodies aching, they must do this all again on Thursday.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps