Boyce battles back with ton for Leics
Leicestershire 318 for 9 (Boyce 106*) v Yorkshire
There has always been a tinge of Greek drama about Yorkshire cricket: mighty challenges, great achievements and one or two flawed heroes have been the stuff of the county's history for a century and more. Relegation last September, although no sort of tragedy, was still a grievous blow, prompting recriminations and revenge.
Wednesday's victory over Worcestershire in the quarter-final of the Friends Life t20 occasioned much joy, but one suspects that it will not satisfy the diehards in the broad acres: for all that an appearance at Cardiff may bring glitz and the promise of wealth, one feels that nothing less than promotion back to Division One will begin to expiate the stain on the house of Hutton and Sutcliffe.
So it might be thought that a visit to Grace Road was just what the motivational coach ordered for Andrew Gale's boys. After all, Leicestershire are at the bottom of Division Two and have won only one four-day game this season, and that was against Glamorgan back in freezing April. A win here would eat into Derbyshire's 25-point lead at the top of the table and encourage Yorkshire supporters that their team will break free from the pack in the final seven weeks of the season.
But Matt Boyce's century proved just how tough things might be for Gale's men over the next month or so. Boyce, who had already scored one championship hundred against Yorkshire this season, made a patient 106 not out off 224 balls to restore his side's fortunes after the loss of early wickets. His 13 boundaries were underpinned by a solid defence and a steely temperament. Yorkshire were probably still the happier by the close, for this is a flat, easy-paced wicket; all the same, they had been made to fight in a way they might not have anticipated at lunch.
For at the first interval things were going rather well for the visitors. Despite losing the toss on a wicket where a score of 350 would be considered barely par for a flat course, Gale's bowlers had claimed four wickets, two of them taken by the excellent Steve Patterson, whose opening eight-over spell accounted for Greg Smith and Ned Eckersley, lbw victims both, as they played across the line.
The key wicket was comfortably the most bizarre, Ramnaresh Sarwan being bowled by a full length ball from Steve Harmison, whose initial five-over spell cost 28 runs, 13 of them in wides and no-balls. Sarwan, one might assume, was startled by a straight one. At times, Harmison's struggle was painful to watch and his final figures of 2 for 69 give no proper indication of his vain battle to find anything like a decent line. Occasionally it seemed that the umpires were a tad generous to him. All the same, the departure of Sarwan left Leicestershire on 59 for 3, and when Michael Thornely followed a wide one from Moin Ashraf on the stroke of lunch and was caught by Bairstow for a hitherto patient 31, the home side were in some trouble.
On the evidence of the afternoon session, however, Leicestershire will be nobody's easy pickings. Their resistance was led by Boyce and Shiv Thakor, who added 68 for the fifth wicket in 23 overs. Boyce is an established county cricketer who has fought a number of rearguards, but Thakor was making his first championship appearance of the season and the third of his brief career. So it was impressive to see the technical excellence displayed by the 18-year-old, his calmness at the crease, his precision of execution and placement. Thakor's first mistake was his last, a drive off Ashraf going straight to Gale to short extra cover. Nonetheless, his 76-ball 35 had put down something of a marker.
Boyce, though, ploughed on in determined fashion. Dropped on 26 when Adam Lyth spilled a regulation slip catch, he reached his fifty with a steer through the slips off Anthony McGrath. He was also dropped by Jonny Bairstow on 94 off Patterson, who finished with 3 for 54 and was the pick of the Yorkshire attack. Along the way, Boyce was helped by Wayne White in a stand of 60 for the sixth wicket and by Claude Henderson in an eighth-wicket partnership of 50. His shot to bring up his hundred, a rifle of a straight drive off Harmison brought together two men whose late July days could hardly have been more contrasting.