Brophy rallies Yorkshire's lower order
Stumps Yorkshire 284 for 7 (Brophy 118, Sidebottom 50*, Wright 3-62) v Worcestershire 286 (Mason 63, Rashid 6-77)
To some, Damien Wright and Gerard Brophy represent everything that is wrong with county cricket. They are both in their mid-30s, foreign-born and have precious little hope of playing international cricket. In an age of young player incentives and tightening work-permit criteria, they are something of an anachronism.
Yet they combined at New Road to show the great virtue of experience. Wright, the 35-year-old Australian now at his fifth county as an overseas player, bowled a superb line and length and gained enough movement to dismiss good, well-set batsmen, while Brophy, a 35-year-old born in South Africa but England-qualified, produced a chanceless century characterised by delightful straight drives. Together they raised the standard of this compelling game and provided rich entertainment for another decent-sized crowd.
Brophy's contribution may turn out to be the more telling. In partnership with the equally experienced Ryan Sidebottom, Brophy put together a so-far unbroken stand of 129 for Yorkshire's eighth-wicket, reviving an innings that had appeared set to fall well below expectation. By stumps, Yorkshire were just two runs behind with power to add. As Brophy put it at the close of play, the pitch is growing slower and lower and a lead of anything over 30 could prove vital.
Brophy is out of contract at the end of the season and, with Yorkshire deep in debt, is far from assured of winning a new deal. This innings - his eighth first-class hundred and highest score for Yorkshire - should have made a compelling case, however. He was admirably compact, impressively patient and waited for anything over-pitched before launching into a series of powerful drives. His century, from 168 balls, contained 15 fours.
Sidebottom played his part, too. Watchful initially, he also produced some pleasing drives and was admirably disciplined outside off stump. He did enjoy some fortune - playing and missing quite often - but did not give a chance and reached his 50 just before the close from 153 balls with nine fours. His only previous first-class half-century came against Glamorgan in 1998.
When they came together, Yorkshire were teetering at 155 for 7 and in danger of surrendering a large first-innings deficit. The first six wickets had all fallen to catches in the cordon behind the wicket as the visiting batsmen struggled to deal with an excellent display of bowling from Worcestershire's seamers.
Wright, in particular, was highly impressive. Maintaining a perfect line, he snared Adam Lyth and Andrew Gale with beauties that swung back into the left-handers and took the edge, before Adil Rashid edged an outswinger to gully. All three batsmen had looked in good touch and, in the case of Lyth in particular, might well wonder how they could have played such a delivery.
Worcestershire's other seamers lent good support. Maintaining a fuller length than Yorkshire had managed the previous day, they also stuck to a disciplined off stump line and their fielders gratefully accepted every chance. Joe Sayers was caught after edging one he had to play, angled across him, while Jonathan Bairstow was lured into a loose drive against a classic outswinger. When Richard Pyrah was beaten by a sharply-turning offbreak in Moeen Ali's first over, Worcestershire were well on top.
The day might not have ended that way, but Worcestershire can still take satisfaction from their start to the season. Though their three leading seamers - Mason, Richardson and Wright - showed just a little weariness in the final session - understandable when you consider that their combined age is 107 - this was very much a case of Yorkshire wrestling the initiative away, rather than Worcestershire squandering a strong position.
Fate has dealt Worcestershire some tough cards over the last few years: floods, recession and an exodus of leading players among them. Yet they have responded admirably: instead of moaning and looking for a hand-out, they've cut costs and redoubled their efforts to live within their diminished means. Yorkshire, propped up only through the benevolence of their multi-millionaire chairman, might take note.
The future is looking a little brighter at New Road these days. While their original plans for ground redevelopment fell through, a new scheme is set to be unveiled within weeks that will, it is hoped, provide substantial income from areas other than cricket. It will encompass a four or five storey building in the area now occupied by the club offices and include a hotel, conference facilities and new offices. Crucially, it will not just provide Worcestershire with a one-off lump sum, but create a new revenue stream from the conference rooms.
The club are currently awaiting a report into the implications of flooding. The city council are supportive, however, so there is every chance that the building will go ahead. Some will, doubtless, bemoan the changing face of the ground. In truth, the beauty of New Road comes from the trees and the proximity to the Cathedral. With the best will in the world, there's nothing pretty about the buildings that will be destroyed to make way for the new building.