Middlesex v Yorkshire, Lord's, 2nd day April 28, 2014

Yorkshire show virtues of taking Root

Yorkshire 178 and 213 for 4 (Root 63, Lyth 54) lead Middlesex 123 (Sidebottom 4-34, Brooks 3-47) by 268 runs

Like perms, mullets and onesies, some fashions are best forgotten.

So it may well prove with the current fashion to play 'positive' cricket. Where once county batsmen were brought up to graft their way through tough sessions of play, many of the current generation react to tricky conditions by attempting to blast their way to success. Even at the end of the Ashes series, with England thrashed inside three days, the mantra from inside the camp was that they had to find a way to attack the Australian bowlers and play positive cricket.

The irony of England's approach was that it played into Australia's hands. While England's strength, with a couple of exceptions, was to play patient, attritional cricket, they were lured into altering their game-plan partially by the drip feeding of propaganda into the media by the likes of Shane Warne. Instead of trying to frustrate Australia by blocking for session upon session, they sought to counter-attack and tended to neither score quickly or survive for long. When you are beaten in two-and-a-half days, strike-rate is largely irrelevant.

In the longer forms of the game, defence can remain the best form of attack. A batsman who has the discipline and technique to leave, defend and wait can survive to damage their opposition not just in the next four overs, but the next four sessions. The old values of patience and denial may be unfashionable in the age of T20 and broadcasters demanding action, but they remain as valuable now as ever.

There was a fine example of the virtues of attritional cricket on the second day of this game. While Middlesex, unable to summon the patience to fight for their runs, lost their last eight wickets for 66 runs, Yorkshire were prepared to grind out their total and, by the close of play, had established what may well prove to be a match-defining advantage.

They had a little fortune. For a large part of their second innings, the clouds dispersed and the sun shone at Lord's. Local wisdom suggests, despite scientific evidence to the contrary, that the ball misbehaves far less often when the sun shines.

Generally, though, Yorkshire made their own fortune. By bowling tremendously well in the morning session - Ryan Sidebottom claimed 3 for 11 in nine overs of wonderfully skilful and accurate swing bowling and was well supported by the hostile Liam Plunkett and the nagging Jack Brooks - they gained a first innings lead of 55; a fine achievement from a position of 113 for 7 in their first innings.

They then capitalised on their advantage by seeing off the new ball and the Middlesex bowlers at their freshest and gradually began to carve out a match-defining advantage. Where Middlesex chased the ball, Yorkshire left it. Where Middlesex panicked, Yorkshire were patient. Where Middlesex sought the poor ball, Yorkshire waited for it. Where Middlesex played failed, Yorkshire succeeded.

The contrast in approaches was typified by the experiences of England rivals Joe Root and Eoin Morgan. While Morgan battled for a while, desperately trying to resist the urge to chase the ball, his patience was eroded after a spell where he scored just nine runs in 34 balls and he fell to an outrageous thrash - and an excellent catch - at a ball well wide of off stump.

Root, by contrast, denied himself such indiscretions. Early in his innings, he was admirably compact and refused to be drawn into deliveries outside his off stump. While there was one early hook for six, Root hit only one other boundary in the first 63 balls of his innings.

But, as Middlesex's three-man seam attack tired, the run began to flow with Root hitting four boundaries in seven balls at one stage - three of them off Steven Finn - and the support bowlers conceded almost four-an-over.

There was little wrong with the Middlesex bowling. Finn again generated sharp pace - though probably no sharper than Plunkett's - and maintained good consistency, while James Harris and Tim Murtagh hardly delivered a poor ball.

While Root's resistance will have done him no harm in the eyes of the England selectors, he was building on a platform established by his side's opening batsmen. Alex Lees and Adam Lyth, in particular, again impressed in a stand that drew the sting from the attack and set the tone for the rest of the day.

While none of the batsmen could go on to establish the dominant innings that would have put this game out of reach - Lees left a straight one, Lyth was drawn into a flirt outside off stump and Root was, as in the first innings, punished for being stuck in the crease - a lead of 268 might prove enough already against a Middlesex line-up that appears oddly brittle.

"We've bowled well as a quartet all season," Sidebottom said afterwards. "The way they batted is credit to the way we bowled. The way Plunkett is performing, England should take note. He is bowling fast; I wouldn't want to bat against him. He is bowling quick and fantastically well.

"They bowled well, too, so we had to battle really hard. They gave us nothing for a couple of hours. There's a lot of cricket to play in this game, though. It could still go either way."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on April 29, 2014, 8:01 GMT

    @Hutton364 I think that the point that George is making is that people were not willing to battle through and set their stall out to see off a session, or two sessions without losing a wicket, as they had done in previous series. It is better to end a day 180-3, than 230ao. It's also better to score just 50 runs off a whole session and not lose a wicket than to score 100 runs for the loss of 5. those were the virtues that England forgot completely.

    The biggest problem that England had was that they were never tiring the opposition bowlers and never giving their own bowlers time to rest. You do that by eliminating the flashy stuff and working on wearing-down your opponents.

  • Jackie on April 29, 2014, 7:36 GMT

    Yorkshire has started well but against weaker sides. When they play stronger opposition we will see how strong they are. However they do have a good side especially in the bowling department. Sidebottom has always been naggingly accurate and Plunkett both a good batsman and bowler who slipped in confidence but is now back up again. Root is a compact batsman and likes to get well settled before he plays his strokes. This whole thing about positivity and aggression instead of playing to the conditions and reading the pitch is the real worry. England were urged to play in a suicidal way at Sydney. Not that different to how they were once advised to play at the Wanderers against South Africa. The problem is that we will have more of the same from Moores who has always taken that attitude. This mania with speed and aggression goes against all sense in Test cricket. It sometimes comes off. But it leaves you vulnerable because you have no other response. Dobell is right. It is fashionable.

  • David on April 28, 2014, 22:00 GMT

    A good article, but I disagree with the comments about England's approach during the Ashes. Simply blocking for hour after hour would never have worked. It's far too negative a strategy. There are very few batsmen who can play defensively for any length of time without succumbing to pressure. In fact, there were many times during the Ashes when Australia took bursts of wickets by drying up the runs and applying more and more pressure.

  • Mark on April 28, 2014, 19:55 GMT

    The suspicion remains that Middlesex are far more likely to end up in a relegation battle than in the fight for the Championship. Last season success in the first half of the season came on the back of solid starts and huge numbers of runs from Rogers and Robson: when one left for the Tests and the other ran out of form, Middlesex started to lose regularly.

    This season Chris Rogers has been relatively short of runs and the starts have not been coming. Sides look at the batting and think that, with the openers gone, the rest of the batting is vulnerable and the tail is long. The bowlers have not been able to bail out the batsmen despite the superb efforts of Steve Finn. The middle order has been a problem for years now.

    Yorkshire, in contrast, have been tremendously impressive. The side looks pretty complete. They should go very close to the title. And, their problem, in the absence of Test calls, is to work out who to leave out.

  • Gavin on April 28, 2014, 19:35 GMT

    An excellent summary. Odd how yesterday Root was 'burdened by captaincy' and today he's 'resistant' and 'admirably compact'. It seems that cricket is drifting more and more into football territory with its very sort attention span. Cricketers come into form and out of form over seasons, not individual innings, and should not be judged in short time intervals. Every cricketer will sometimes get a good one early and get out. Root is a very good player, who, in the medium to long term, will do very well indeed. Great comments from Sidebottom too. Spot on. Sidebottom is bowling almost as good as ever, Brooks is a revelation, Patterson will always keep it tight and Plunkett, though getting some tap, occasionally bowls balls that are so good that most county batsmen aren't good enough to edge them. Fast, lifting, aggressive. a great athlete. Yorkshire for the title (except their top order batting can be a bit frail and they don't have a spinner). Still a very good cricket team.

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