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May 2, 2012
Yorkshire 329 for 5 (Bairstow 141, Gale 80) v Leicestershire
To try to understand why Yorkshire and Ajmal Shahzad are going their separate ways, it was tempting not to spend the entire day at the cricket at North Marine Road, but to retreat for a while to the warmth of Mr Jingles Dickensian Café in the centre of town. Scarborough claims tenuous links with Dickens on the grounds that he once gave a reading in the town and wandered around a few graveyards in the vicinity, and he would have relished a satirical take on Yorkshire cricket's latest melodrama.
There is something about Yorkshire cricket that in the end turns everybody into the sort of comically exaggerated characters that were Dickens' stock in trade. Colin Graves, Yorkshire's no-nonsense chairman, runs a chain of supermarkets rather than a mill and Ajmal Shahzad, depicted as the restless and ambitious type, could yet become a shoo-in for the first Yorkshire Asian to be cast as Pip in Great Expectations.
Nobody emerges well from Yorkshire's decision to end their association with Shazad less than a month into the season. Shahzad's volatile temperament has run straight into the arms-folded, straight-talking, uncompromising nature of Yorkshire cricket. Yorkshire can take pride in Shahzad as the first Yorkshire-born Asian to play for the county, but they have failed to forge a deep loyalty and sense of team ethic. Shahzad has felt undervalued for a long time and Yorkshire have found solace in the assumption that he is not a team player.
Graves is due to explain Yorkshire's decision to cut their losses on Thursday lunchtime. It will be no surprise to learn that some counties have already made a formal approach. There may also be reference to an on-field tantrum against Essex at Headingley a fortnight ago, which drew the displeasure of the umpires, Rob Bailey and Alex Wharf. But there are faults on all sides. If Graves does not say "it's a rum do and no mistake", then perhaps he should.
Somerset have become the first county to confirm their interest in taking Shahzad on a loan deal. "We are currently assessing the situation," said their director of cricket, Brian Rose. "It has been publicised that we are looking at the list of potential loan players and of course he is an exciting addition to that list."
Other counties will follow - although judging by the feelers that were put out a couple of years ago, Shahzad will not be easily affordable. It was then that Yorkshire allowed another supposedly problematic pace bowler, Matthew Hoggard, to leave for Leicestershire and pronounced that Shahzad was the future. It has not been much of a future.
On the first day, post Shahzad, Yorkshire did what for so long they have done best: they took a mess of their own making and stared it down. Andrew Gale, the captain who now has to restore equilibrium, and Jonny Bairstow, who like his father before him bats as if asserting that anything is always possible, added 160 in 40 overs for the fourth wicket. It was a stand steeped more than most in Yorkshire pride. Gale was the more secure of the two before, on 80, he edged an injudicious square drive off Wayne White but it was Bairstow, 141 from 213 balls at the close, who progressed to his fifth first-class century.
It sounds carping to observe that Bairstow was not at his best for long periods as he rallied Yorkshire's dressing room spirits so successfully, but he was not. He was a batsman in a hurry, as if eager to right wrongs, and was dropped on 19 off White by Jacques du Toit at second slip. It was a strange innings, reliant more on a sharp eye than confident footwork, although there were four sixes to cheer a crowd that had donned winter apparel to protect itself against a chill wind off the North Sea. He worked hard, though, to settle into a more reliable tempo after tea, taking more than an hour to move from 80 to 100 before he preyed upon a tiring attack in the final hour.
Another stalwart, Anthony McGrath, rallied with an unbeaten 49 as Bairstow shared in a second century stand. His father spent an entire career bemoaning internal strife and was occupied for so long fighting fires that he was regularly compared to a little red fire engine, sirens clanging. It remains to be seen if Yorkshire will waste another generation of cricketers.
Leicestershire did not help themselves in the field. Their ground fielding was shoddy and they missed at least four catches with Ramnaresh Sarwan, captain in Hoggard's absence, reprieving both Joe Sayers and Gale, on 32, at slip and looking frozen to the ground - quite literally - as Gary Ballance edged wide of him in the afternoon.
Many Yorkshire followers watched with a maudlin air. Jason Gillespie, the new coach, has seemingly decided that Shahzad's breakdown of relations with Yorkshire is irreparable. But Yorkshire, however they dress it up, however much they plead that righteousness is on their side, have followed up a mediocre start to the season by abandoning a troubled relationship with just the sort of player who might have kick-started their promotion push.
In an interview with the Grocer earlier this year, Graves said: "I was indoctrinated with a company and a brand and never thought there was anything outside it - so to step out of that and go into the unknown was a bit like jumping off a cliff." He was talking about abandoning Spar for Costcutter. He could easily have been talking about the endless mystique of Yorkshire cricket.
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