July 11, 2013

Gale blows a fair wind

From Scarborough to Lord's, watching Yorkshire has been a continuing delight

Watching first-class cricket at Scarborough and then at Lord's: does life get better than this?

I've been going to Scarborough for 60 years and I never tire of the glorious North York Moors, nor of the town and its ancient, friendly and slightly tatty cricket ground. Even when it rains Scarborough is great. Which is fortunate, come to think of it.

It did rain a little, frustratingly, at the start of the Notts game. We stuck them in on a pitch than looked slightly green, and they responded by blocking for the whole of the first day. I'm not complaining - "You put us in, you bowl us out," - but Ed Cowan could empty a few stands, fill a few bars during the Ashes…..

By the end of day two, Yorkshire found themselves 29 for 3 in reply to Nottinghamshire's big total. Luke Fletcher had already made his mark. He reminds me of the young Flintoff; a bit flabby but a big, big unit. Quick, too.

Skipper Andrew Gale has looked in decent nick all season. Two leg-side strangles and a sensational Rikki Clarke catch had contributed to his lack of runs, hitherto. Now he turned on the style, big time, with an innings of 272. A whole day's play saw only one wicket fall, and the partnership between Gale and Gary Ballance finally amounted to 297.

The flat Scarborough pitch won in the end and I was not present at Lord's on the first day, when opener Alex Lees made a maiden Championship century. I saw him out to the first ball next morning - such is life - but Gale went on to make another century, while Adil Rashid rode his luck and smashed the Middlesex bowlers to all parts. Tim Murtagh alone impressed.

Day three was a great time to be a Yorkshire supporter. I sat in the Tavern Stand, very close to the action, as our pace attack bundled Middlesex out. If there was a champagne moment it was the returning Liam Plunkett depositing John Simpson's middle stump halfway back to the keeper; a stunning, perfect yorker.

We had missed Plunkett's pace at Scarborough, but it was Steve Patterson who again led the way at Lord's with his accuracy and movement. On these pitches, under leaden skies, he is without peer. Nor I am forgetting Ryan Sidebottom. In the follow-on he disposed of Chris Rogers in the first over and later, when Neil Dexter threatened a fightback, Ryan knocked out two of his stumps with another yorker. What a lovely mess!

The coup de grace was administered by Rashid, his first five-for for ages. Yorkshire had backed up their bowlers with fielding of the highest order. This 10-wicket win was reward for cricket that was as exciting to watch as it must have been fun to play.

Had there been any Middlesex supporters present they would have been downcast, I expect. By contrast, the arrival of Surrey at Headingley, on (at last) a summery day, brought out Yorkshiremen in their thousands.

The main entertainment came from another huge partnership, 204 this time, between Gale and Ballance. The second day was frustratingly cold and wet, stop and start (mostly stop). With the forecast even worse for the next day I gave it a miss, which was a pity, because KP scored 177.

The final day was tense, as Gary Keedy (seven wickets) and Chris Tremlett put Yorkshire under pressure. There was never a chance of a declaration, with both Patterson and Sidebottom injured. From the Championship point of view, the mid-season T20 break was arriving at exactly the right time.

It is good, after almost three months of tough action, to have a change for the players, a chance to clear the mind. The last thing you want is for the season to become a treadmill of tedium. If they're not enjoying playing, you're not going to enjoy watching them.

With little interest in T20, I went in search of real cricket. My quest took me to Worcester, where the Australians were playing prior to the first Ashes Test. Most people would have New Road on their list of scenic grounds. Me, too, but now a towering Premier Inn is nearing completion, in the corner near the bridge.

I will reserve judgment until I see it finished, minus scaffolding. The artist's impression looks good, so perhaps my fears are groundless.

In the next few weeks I have trips planned to neat little Stamford Bridge, where Yorkshire face MCC Young Cricketers in the 2nd XI Championship, and to lovely Queen's Park, Chesterfield, where our County Championship campaign resumes against Derbyshire.

With Championship games still to come at Trent Bridge, Scarborough again, and Hove, I have much to look forward to. I love the Hove ground, and the Sussex game in early September could be important. Pivotal, even, if both clubs continue to prosper.

Watching cricket in England is a continuing delight. And, even as I type these words, there are rumours that a few sunny days are imminent. Not before time.

Dave Morton, now retired, grew up worshipping the great Yorkshire team of the 1950s