Yardy's x-factor audition lasts the day
Sussex 276 for 8 (Yardy 132*, Smith 3-69) v Lancashire
People who watch a bit of cricket but barely understand the longer forms of the game are wont to say that the four-day county game needs jazzing up a bit. "It lacks an x-factor," they are occasionally heard to say. Devotees of the County Championship respond rather hotly that it is in want of no such thing. On the contrary, it is the requirement to display technique and concentration for hours or days at a stretch that makes four-day cricket so attractive and absorbing.
Well, Lancashire gave some probably pretty bemused members the chance to compare the famous talent show with the famous cricket competition when they opted to hold early auditions for ITV's autumn extravaganza at The Point, the club's hospitality suite, on the first day of the game against Sussex.
The vast majority of spectators eschewed the opportunity, of course, and instead gave their attention to Michael Yardy's staunch century and the home debut of Kyle Jarvis.
Yet as the despondent guitarists and rejected vocalists made their dejected way out of Old Trafford, having suffered their three minutes of disappointment, it was instructive to think what might happened if Jarvis's bowling or even Yardy's batting, a thing of substance rather than instant appeal, had been subjected to similarly snap judgements.
Signed late last season, the Zimbabwean's first-class home debut began poorly as he conceded 42 runs off his first six overs, sending down full tosses, five no-balls and other assorted dross. Maybe it was nerves but he seemed to lack any sort of rhythm.
That Lancashire claimed three wickets in the opening session was therefore explained by other factors: the persistence of Glen Chapple, who had Luke Wells lbw playing no shot in the fifth over; the carelessness of Chris Nash, who stroked 40 before carelessly nicking Tom Smith to Alex Davies; the rashness of Rory Hamilton-Brown in skying the accurate Simon Kerrigan to Luis Reece at cover.
If Jarvis had been summoned to see Mike Watkinson, who, come to think of it, rather resembles Simon Cowell in a good light, he might have been told: "I'm sorry Kyle, I'm sending you home." As it was, though, the bowler had a chance to redeem himself and seized his chance eagerly, producing a second spell of 7-1-22-2 and removing Matt Machan and Luke Wright, both of whom were lbw to full length deliveries.
Those dismissals left Sussex poorly placed on 140 for 5 and their position deteriorated further when Ben Brown edged a full delivery from Luke Procter to Tom Smith's secure hands at second slip. The excellent Smith then induced Ashar Zaidi to play on by attempting to cut a ball that was too close to him and Sussex were unexpectedly in the toils on 176 for 7
Yet as the wickets tumbled at the other end, Yardy stood firm, punching the bad balls away and defending the good ones with an obduracy that encouraged all visitors from the South coast. Having scored only 75 runs from his five Championship innings this season, Sussex's No 3 was in need of a score and he found the resources to accumulate one just at a point when his team, who lost to Somerset by an innings last week, were particularly in need of one.
Yardy takes his guard about a foot outside leg stump and really does walk into position to play the ball just as the bowler is delivering it. Stillness at the crease has no part to play in his technique but that technique is grooved and it plainly works for him.
Coming to the wicket at 11.20, Yardy defied all that Lancashire could bowl at him and when bad light ended play 4.3 overs early he had 132 not out against his name, a tally which included just 10 boundaries, although that mattered little. What was of greater significance was his defiance during his 214-ball innings.
Greatly helped by James Anyon, who made 35 in a 76-run stand for the eighth wicket, Yardy ensured that Sussex go into the second morning of this game with honours even on a rather two-paced pitch.