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May 3, 2012
Leicestershire 116 (McGrath 4-21) and 3-1 trail Yorkshire 447 (Bairstow 182, McGrath 90) by 328 runs
Commitment to the cause has always been the first expectation in Yorkshire cricket, especially at times of crisis. It should come as no surprise therefore that on the day that Yorkshire justified their willingness to release Ajmal Shahzad on the grounds that his individualism had become too much to bear they summoned their most dominant display of the season.
For Yorkshire, the story could not have turned out more perfectly. The chairman, Colin Graves, extolled the virtues of players who put the team first, the director of cricket, Martyn Moxon, expressed sadness that Shahzad had not seen fit to listen to well-meaning advice. Shahzad himself said nothing. Then along came an old Yorkshire campaigner to provide a convenient illustration of what they meant. Anthony McGrath, with 4 for 21, one of his finest bowling spells in an 18-year career, tried to put an end to all the nonsense.
When Leicestershire batted a second time in fading light and with another chilly day at its meanest, McGrath was even given the new ball. Shahzad, if he was watching from afar, would see the irony in that.
Shahzad - or at least Shahzad achieving his full potential - might conceivably have bowled Yorkshire to a Championship title one day and become the sort of exciting leader of the attack who could become a role model for a coming generation. Whether he would be most likely to achieve that by strictly observing team disciplines or by following his own sense of where his talents lie is an intriguing cricketing debate that will now be settled elsewhere.
McGrath would never claim that he might bowl Yorkshire to a Championship. At 36, he is of increasingly avuncular build and is merely trying to prolong his county career, a batsman of long service who bowls a bit of gentle medium when the situation demands it. But at North Marine Road he proved himself capable of bowling them out of a hole.
When Yorkshire most needed something uplifting, McGrath provided it. His four-hour 90 out of Yorkshire's 447, to back up Jonny Bairstow's 182, was regarded by regular Yorkshire observers as one of his best knocks in the last couple of years. He came on as fourth seamer with Leicestershire 33 for 3 off 20 overs, Ryan Sidebottom having made early incursions. His run was leisurely and pace all the more so. If Yorkshire wanted their bowlers to bowl top of off, McGrath might have to settle for halfway up off instead.
His first ball smacked into Ramnaresh Sarwan's pads and the umpire Neil Mallender turned down the lbw appeal. The second wobbled into the pads again and this time Mallender gave Sarwan out lbw - a prime West Indias batsman to McGrath's name. Ned Eckersley fell lbw to his 12th ball, leaving Leicestershire 43 for 5. There was a third wicket, too, when Josh Cobb, who had hung on gamely for 29, tried to loft him down the ground and fell to an excellent catch, standing up to the stumps, by Bairstow. The only frustration for Yorkshire was that Leicestershire's last two wickets added 48.
Here is an intriguing statistic: coming into this match, Shahzad, whose ambition to revive his England career is behind his desire for a move, has 135 wickets at 33.80; McGrath, who is merely trying to hold together a long career, came into the match with 123 at 35.69, more comparable than you might imagine. And here is an even more intriguing statistic: Shahzad over his career has conceded runs at 3.45 an over, more than Yorkshire feel comfortable with; McGrath, at gentle pace, concedes runs at 2.99. Darren Gough, one Yorkshire fast bowler who was given the liberty to mix it up a bit, conceded a little over three runs an over.
On a day when pride ran as thick as the blood in the veins of Yorkshire's hardy spectators, Steven Patterson took three cheap wickets in Leicestershire's first innings to reach 100 first-class wickets for Yorkshire - and cut into their second innings when he had Greg Smith lbw to the last ball of the day. One battle does not win a war, but it was a battle won nonetheless. It will help to keep the chill from the bones while the likes of Somerset and Lancashire muse about the benefits that Shahzad might bring them.
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