Magnificent Root secures stunning victory
Yorkshire 177 (Root 49, Onions 5-63) and 339 for 6 (Root 182, Rashid 50*) beat Durham 237 (Mustard 70, Bresnan 4-41) and 275 for 4 dec (Stoneman 109, Benkenstein 61*) by four wickets
Joe Root produced arguably the most substantial innings of his fledgling career to banish the pessimism that had fallen prematurely upon Yorkshire's season and leave Durham contemplating the sort of defeat that Riverside folklore had deemed all but impossible. Root got out with the scores level, to a ball delivered by Callum Thorp off a few paces, but as he had 182 at the time and Yorkshire won by four wickets from the next ball, he will be forgiven that.
History was entirely on Paul Collingwood's side when he declared Durham's second innings late on the third day and left Yorkshire needing 336 for victory. No opposing side has ever successfully chased a target of that magnitude in Chester-le-Street and this was April, with the trees still barely in leaf and the council mowers leaving ruts in the nearby parks.
But Root, young of body but mature of brain, has already displayed a prodigious appetite for big challenges. Durham will rue two close calls that might well have turned the game as he neared his century. Had he been adjudged run out on 87, when Mark Stoneman struck direct from point, or given out caught off the glove by Paul Collingwood on 93, when he skittishly reverse-swept Will Smith, the story might have been very different.
But it was not. Those blips apart, his certainty was striking. When Yorkshire secured the fourth-largest run chase in their history with 6.1 overs to spare - all of them achieved in the past eight years - Root was gingerly strapping off his pads, protecting a finger battered by Chris Rushworth during his six-hour stay, after guiding Yorkshire to a victory that few imagined was within their compass. An enterprising unbeaten half-century by Adil Rashid also played its part, allowing Root the liberty to play within himself after tea.
Collingwood, Durham's captain, was magnanimous in defeat. "We have seen an exceptional innings today by Rooty. I really think it's so impressive how a young lad can play an innings like that. We threw everything at him and he came through it. He has a steady head and a superb technique. The rhythm of his innings, everything about it, was exceptional. I've got absolutely no qualms about the decisions. The run-out was probably too close to call and, as for the catch, I was appealing for lbw as well.
"I still don't know the pitch well enough and as a home captain I should do. This has taken me by surprise. In the past year we have bowled sides out for less than 150 repeatedly to win games on similar-looking pitches. Unfortunately this pitch just seemed to die in pace."
One of the enduring images of England's winter is of Root blocking. He blocked in Nagpur and he blocked again in Auckland. Measure it in terms of sun block and his entire winter was factor 50. It was rarely pretty, but he fulfilled his protective role perfectly. On this occasion, he made do with factor 15 and let himself live a little.
Sometimes you watched this mere slip of a lad committing every sinew to England's cause in the winter and feared he might never play a shot again. Thrown into England's ranks so young, his game was narrowed down into an obsessive battle for survival.
Root placed the innings above his double century against Hampshire last season, a defensive innings between the showers to save a game. "I set out my stall at the beginning of the season to start to win matches for Yorkshire and I'm really pleased I managed to contribute," he said. "England definitely stood me in good stead. I have definitely grown because of it. I just try and play the situation and if that means bat long, I try to bat long. The pitch was a lot deader than it was on the first couple of days."
Yorkshire lost three wickets by lunch. Chris Rushworth removed Adam Lyth and Phil Jaques - the latter to a fifth-ball duck - in the space of one over, and Andrew Gale has also perished, an attempted cut at Keaton Jennings which flew to Collingwood at slip.
Then Jonny Bairstow's love-hate relationship with the pull shot continued. It got him out twice in the match, Ben Stokes was the bowler second time round as Bairstow again tried to pull with control and picked out the finer of two catchers. But Root reached his hundred, only his fifth in first-class cricket, with an off-drive against Scott Borthwick and by tea the rate was down to 3.5 runs an over.
Stokes, looking fit and fired up, found a bit of swing ahead of the second new ball to dismiss Gary Ballance, who was caught at the wicket with 102 needed. But Rashid played with attacking intent, so enabling Root to tick along and - almost - bat through to victory. When the second new ball came, Yorkshire's target was down to 53 from 24 overs - and Root lashed Rushworth's first delivery with it to the cover boundary. It was some statement; it was some innings.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo