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Jon Culley at Headingley
April 22, 2014
Northamptonshire 94 and 149 for 4 (Middlebrook 63) trail Yorkshire 459 for 9 dec by 216runs
With bigger tests to come, against Middlesex at Lord's and Durham at Chester-le-Street, as the season gathers momentum, Yorkshire will not want an opportunity such as this to slip through their fingers. Frustration was the theme of the day, though, and it almost came with a nasty sting in the tale.
First the frustration, in the shape of bad light, rain and a half-century from James Middlebrook, which combined to take the contest into a fourth day that had seemed highly unlikely when Northants were being blown away for 94 between lunch and tea on day two.
Then the sting, which came at a point in the day when, once upon a time, given what had gone before, namely 35 overs bowled in questionable light and interrupted by spells of rain, that the participants would have long since given up the ghost and been swapping stories over a pint or two. Nowadays, no one gets away, quite rightly, without extracting every ball possible from every window of meteorological opportunity.
So it was that the players took the field for the final time at six o'clock, with 14 overs ahead of them in watery evening sunshine, and so it was in the first of those overs that Gary Ballance, in pole position to fill a middle-order slot in England's new era, was able to damage the index finger of his right hand, trying unsuccessfully to scoop up a catch in the slips.
He left the field immediately, attempting to stem the dripping blood, accompanied by fears of a third damaged digit to go with those afflicting Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. Happily, first reports are that the damage is superficial and that he will be back on the field in the morning. Bairstow, incidentally, was due to be scanned today, to assess the healing process in his broken finger.
For all that it should not deny Yorkshire a win, it was a much better effort from Northants after Monday's single-session capitulation. The resolve shown by Leeds-born Middlebrook, against the county he left 13 years ago, deserved the moments of good fortune that came his way. He edged one Ryan Sidebottom delivery between first and second slips when he was on 10, when the poor light at the time was to his advantage, and another from Jack Brooks just short of third slip on 18. And was he who edged Sidebottom again, on 49, to Ballance's discomfort.
He was lucky, too, given the gloom, that he was seeing the ball well enough to duck when Liam Plunkett's opening delivery came out as a head-high full toss. Indeed, his defensive instincts served him well until a ball from Brooks did just enough, in terms of bounce and movement, to find an edge which Andrew Hodd took behind the stumps. He had batted more than three hours for his 63.
His stand of 89 for the second wicket with Kyle Coetzer was arguably the most satisfying passage of the game for Northants, a rare point in which Yorkshire were not in full control. It was such a shame in the end that Coetzer, who had been concentrating every bit as hard as his partner, was tempted to chase a wide ball from Sidebottom and paid the price.
Yorkshire bowled appreciably better in the final hour, in which Brooks also dismissed Matthew Spriegel with a full delivery that brought the ninth lbw verdict of the game. There is rain forecast again for the final afternoon, and if Yorkshire are not in the bar by then, raising a celebratory glass, they will not be good company.
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