Yorkshire face crunch day after Lyth's record epic
Leicestershire320 and 57 for 2 trail Yorkshire 486 (Lyth 248*, Bairstow 118, Henderson 4-126) by 109 runs
Yorkshire's hopes of returning to Division One at the first attempt probably depend on them beating sides like Leicestershire. Rain-ravaged games at both Colwyn Bay and Chesterfield have helped restrict Andrew Gale's team to only two wins and diehard supporters who expected the White Rose to blaze a trail in the second tier of English cricket have been left both disappointed and a tad intolerant of lectures about the charms of outground cricket
Yet for all that Leicestershire have had the worst of most of this match Matthew Hoggard's men have proved themselves doughty opponents whose competitive spirit compensates in part for their obvious limitations. Yorkshire have never been able to bully them and now the weather is taking a hand. The rain which sweetened the air at Grace Road also soured the mood of visiting supporters who had seen their side lose 1718 first-class overs before this game, representing a remarkable 44.75% of the possible cricket they could have watched.
The four stoppages for rain on Sunday did not prevent Yorkshire building a 166-run lead, but two balls after Anthony McGrath had removed Greg Smith, lbw playing no shot for 28, with the first delivery of his spell from the Pavilion End, the gentlest of showers persuaded Messrs Gould and Bailey to take the players off. Like a tiresome schoolboy shown a teacher's weakness, the rain grew bolder and there was a 75-minute break during large parts of which there was no rain at all, but bright sunshine. Sometimes this beautiful game does not help itself one bit.
All the same, one piece of the evening's action was worth waiting for when the cricket resumed. Bowling from the Bennett End, Steve Harmison completely deceived Michael Thornely with both the slower pace and slightly higher trajectory of the final delivery of his first over and the ball crashed into the middle and off stumps. For a moment we recalled Michael Clarke's dramatic dismissal on the Saturday evening of the 2005 Edgbaston Test. Oblivious to such imperishable memories, Ned Eckersley and Ramnaresh Sarwan shepherded their side to 57 for 2 at the close. The final day of this game may be one of the most important in Yorkshire's season.
The first two sessions of the Sunday's play were dominated by Adam Lyth, who added 89 runs to his overnight tally to finish with 248 not out, the highest score by any Yorkshire batsman since Darren Lehmann made 339 against Durham in 2006. Despite losing McGrath, who fell lbw to Hoggard's first ball of the morning, Lyth continued relentlessly into the seventh and eighth hours of his innings, eventually batting 509 minutes and facing 395 balls in what was an epic effort.
And, indeed, the afternoon session was the type that has statomaniacs donning their gold lamé anoraks and hugging each other in delight: Lyth is the 14th Yorkshire batsman to carry a bat through a completed innings and the first to do so since Joe Sayers against Durham in 2007. The list includes some famous names such as Herbert Sutcliffe, who managed the feat six times, Len Hutton, who did it just the twice, and the current Yorkshire president Geoff Boycott, who performed the deed eight times in an 18-year period during which, curiously enough, no-one else managed it.
No Yorkshireman, however, has made more runs when batting through an innings than Lyth, and one may hazard the view not too many in the distinguished lineage will have played much better either. The quality of his effort was determined less by the quality of the attack he was facing, although Henderson kept a tight line and length, as by the way the opener crafted his approach around the partner with whom he was batting and the state of his side's innings.
This characteristic was revealed once more on Sunday when Lyth quickly revealed that his thirst for runs was chillingly undiminished. He added 45 for the seventh wicket with Azeem Rafiq and 73 for the eighth with Steve Patterson, who made 28. Both of those partners were able to hold up an end and they helped Lyth secure maximum five batting bonus points for Yorkshire.
Once Harmison and Moeen Ashraf were at the wicket, however, Lyth was liberated to play his shots with full abandon: he straight drove Buck for six before pulling Hoggard for another maximum two overs later. While Henderson was taking three wickets for no runs at the Pavilion End, Lyth plundered 26 runs off eleven balls at the other. Having survived on modest rations for most of his innings, he finally felt free to have a slap-up meal at the best restaurant in town.
And yet the Yorkshire opener remained endearingly unaware of all that he had achieved. When told by his colleagues that he had broken records and that he had carried his bat, he replied straight-faced: "Yes, I know, I've been carrying it for the last day and a half".