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Jon Culley at Wantage Road
May 31, 2014
Northamptonshire 191 for 7 (Middlebrook 70, Brook 4-58) lead Yorkshire 136 (Butler 4-41, Azharullah 3-41) by 55 runs
An opening day with echoes of the match against Lancashire in April, when 18 wickets fell, left Northamptonshire as then with a lead. They will not wish to be reminded that they failed to take advantage of that opportunity, so nothing can be taken for granted. At least, though, there were signs that they can improve on their poor start to life in Division One and that a quick return to the second tier is not necessarily inevitable.
Yorkshire are missing a number of important players but that alone could not explain being bowled out for 136 inside 41 overs. It was a good pitch to bowl on but there were some poor shots too, contributing to Yorkshire's lowest first-innings score since they were dismissed for 96 by Sussex in the opening match of 2013. Maurice Chambers and Azharullah bowled well with the new ball before Ian Butler, the New Zealand allrounder, took 4 for 41.
Yet Northamptonshire lost half their own wickets in getting their noses in front and James Middlebrook's 70 was made not without luck, chances going begging on 10 and 59. Jack Brooks, their former charge, returned to his old stamping ground to take 4 for 58, the wickets coming in the space of 26 deliveries in a spell that reduced them to 90 for 4 from 44 for 0.
Brooks, long hair restrained by his trademark headband, enjoyed all his success at the Wantage Road end, watched from above the old indoor school by his parents, who are still members here despite their son's move north. They were present too when he wreaked havoc at Headingley in April, taking eight wickets in the match as Yorkshire won by an innings. This latest clutch takes him to 33 for the season, moving him ahead of Steven Finn as the leading wicket-taker in the country.
Yorkshire were without Joe Root and Gary Ballance, playing for England at Lord's. Kane Williamson is required by New Zealand until the second week of July, which meant a chance for the 20-year-old batsman, Jack Leaning, who appeared in one Championship match last season. They left out Andrew Hodd to create space for Aaron Finch, the Australian best known for his 156 against England in a Twenty20 international, who is making his Championship debut. In the bowling attack, Ryan Sidebottom was still missing with a hamstring injury, so Tim Bresnan's release by England to join the match after lunch was timely.
Invited to bat when Stephen Peters won the toss, Yorkshire slumped to 45 for 5 inside 19 overs. Adam Lyth was leg-before to a ball of yorker length, Azharullah found the edge of Alex Lees' bat with his first ball from around the wicket and Andrew Gale became the second batsman out without scoring when he followed one from Ian Butler that climbed on him and gave first slip a comfortable catch. Leaning, on the defensive, was undone by Andrew Hall's late movement.
Jonny Bairstow, whose chances of retaining his place as England's Test match wicketkeeper seem by common consensus to be slim, hit his first two balls to the boundary but was bowled off stump driving at Butler.
Finch and Adil Rashid added 42 for the sixth wicket but Rashid was caught behind with an ugly shot at a short, wide delivery from Butler. Finch, powerful and bold, cut Butler for six but his attempt to transform the innings ended when he tried to force Azharullah off the back foot and chopped the ball on to his stumps. Bresnan was bowled without scoring, leaving a ball from Butler that came back to clip his off stump and it was as well that Liam Plunkett is in good form with the bat, adding 25 off as many balls that could yet prove valuable.
Yet it was a bowling performance to improve confidence for Northamptonshire, after which openers Peters and Middlebrook laid down the beginnings of a solid reply.
But after Brooks had Peters caught at third slip a collapse followed. David Sales was bowled off an inside edge, Matthew Spriegel was leg-before and Rob Keogh knocked back a return catch as Brooks threatened to run through them in rapid time. Bresnan had Newton leg-before and claimed his second wicket when Middlebrook, who began his career at Headingley, edged to first slip, although it was at the third attempt after Finch got both hands to a chance at first slip when he had made 10 and Lyth put him down at second slip on 59, with Bresnan the bowler both times.
After a 12 noon start it was no surprise that the light was not good enough for a full day, although Northamptonshire made the most of a late extension after it appeared a first stoppage would bring play to an end, adding 45 runs to their total from 44 balls.
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