Relief for Gale as century ends run drought
Yorkshire 358 for 4 (Gale 159*, Ballance 103*) trail Nottinghamshire 443 by 85 runs
Andrew Gale's last hundred was scored against Durham in June 2011, when the Olympics were in the distance and Syria was still governable. Yorkshire expects more from its captains. On Scarborough's wide acres, he finally delivered.
Since that last hundred, Gale has played 33 innings and made only five fifties. In 2012 he scored 487 first-class runs. "If Root and Bairstow were available…." the cricket talk has begun in the Leeds pubs. "If he wasn't captain…" The implication has rarely been left hanging in the air.
So when Gale got inside the line of a delivery from Samit Patel, Nottinghamshire's England allrounder, and hoisted it high over the wide long on boundary to reach his hundred, he was entitled to punch the air wildly and kiss the White Rose badge on his helmet.
Physical clichés are forgivable when a cricketer has proved that his powers of resistance are still intact. Every player knows that there will come a time when the fires will burn low and never be rekindled.
By close of play, the mixture of delight and relief had become untrammelled joy as Gale reached a career-best 159 not out and had been joined in his contentment by Gary Ballance, whose unbeaten 103 was his second century of the season.
Only one wicket had fallen in the day and all thoughts of Yorkshire having to follow-on had long been forgotten. The game is surely as dead as the BetaMax cassette.
Gale had, of course, been beaten by some of the 282 deliveries he faced in the day, but none of those reverses had amounted to the complete defeat which leads to the lonely trudge back to the pavilion which had so often characterised his last two years in Championship cricket.
His century was all the more laudable given the context in which it was scored. Yorkshire's skipper began the day with no runs at all to his name and his side on 29-3, still 265 short of the follow-on.
He put on 94 in 29 overs with Phil Jaques before the Australian was caught at short leg by James Taylor off Patel for 51; Yorkshire's No3 was attempting a hit to leg but the ball made contact with only bat edge and pad.
That dismissal took place five overs before lunch and it was the last of the day. The remaining two sessions were taken up with Gale and Ballance adding an unbroken 237 for the fifth wicket. In doing so they established a raft of records to delight the statisticians, although the anoraks had not donned their uniforms this very warm Friday.
The partnership was a new fifth-wicket record for Yorkshire against Nottinghamshire beating the 152 put on by John Hampshire and Neil Hartley at Trent Bridge in 1981. It is also the highest fifth-wicket stand by Yorkshire batsmen at Scarborough and the highest fifth-wicket partnership in county cricket on the ground.
Of the twoWhite Rose centurions, Ballance is in better form and probably looked the more fluent. The majority of his shots were played with the assurance of a man near the top of his game. His cutting of Paul Franks, his clipping of Luke Fletcher to midwicket and his footwork against most bowlers made it fairly clear why the England selectors have been looking closely at him.
Gale's eventual confidence was harder won and, perhaps for that very reason, it was more pleasurable to watch. But by the end of the day both batsmen were playing with complete freedom. The follow-on had been saved, the second new ball had been seen off and Nottinghamshire's attack, so threaterning just 24 hours earlier, had been made to look anodyne, the former Yorkshireman, Ajmal Shahzad, among them.
Shahzad was deliberately cut high over the slips by Ballance, who later reverse swept Patel for two fours. Gale came down the wicket and punched the ball to the square leg boundary. The 200 stand was brought up with four byes off Shahzad which ballooned high over Chris Read's head; the Notts wicketkeeper/captain sat on the grass and looked back resentfully at umpire Nigel Cowley. The contrast with his counterpart's emotions could barely have been more marked.
The last hour of this day's play must have been a delight for Gale. At last he was master of his demesne again. Three of the Cleckheaton batsman's 13 hundreds have been scored at Scarborough and none of his innings anywhere can have been much more important to his career.
Cricket must suddenly seem an easy game on such evenings and even the knowledge that the game was surely heading for stalemate late tomorrow afternoon could not mar his joy.