Plunkett impresses in big Yorkshire win
Yorkshire 136 (Butler 4-31) and 546 for 3 dec. (Lyth 230, Lees 138) beat Northamptonshire 251 (Middlebrook 70, Brooks 4-78) and 160 (Plunkett 4-42) by 271 runs
This still has the feel of an open race for the County Championship with no side so far able to establish themselves in a clear lead. Yet if anyone has created an impression that they are the team to beat it is Yorkshire.
All of their three wins have been impressive: Northamptonshire and Warwickshire at home by an innings, and now this to complete a first double of the season, by 271 runs. The defeat against Middlesex at Lord's still leaves a question mark; perhaps too they should have beaten Durham at Chester-le-Street. But on their good days Yorkshire have been outstanding and the good days have so far outnumber the bad.
Jason Gillespie, Yorkshire's first-team coach, felt his side displayed the character they will need to sustain a title bid. Victory was completed at 2.45pm when Liam Plunkett took his fourth wicket. As it happened, Angus Fraser, with his England selector's cap on, popped into Wantage Road and Gillespie was in no doubt that Fraser would have been impressed with Plunkett.
"It was a massive performance in terms of character, one of the best wins I have seen for a long time," Gillespie said. "Having been 136 all out on day one, when we didn't bowl particularly well either, we needed it. Andrew Gale, our captain, asked the lads to show a bit of fight, to find a way back into the game and they did that. I couldn't be more proud of them. If you are going to challenge for a top three spot you need to produces performances like that, to be able to bounce back.
"Liam bowled quick and created indecision. He has absolute clarity in his role, which is to run in and bowl fast for us and not worry about how many runs he will go for.
"If he does that we know the rewards will come, either in wickets for him or for the others from the doubt he creates. There are some good fast bowlers around but I haven't seen anyone bowl as quick and as consistently as Liam has this year."
Gillespie could not find enough praise for his opening batsmen, Alex Leys and Adam Lyth, whose 375-run partnership turned the match on its head as well as giving themselves a prominent place in the record books, as compilers of the fourth biggest stand in the county's history.
"The way Alex and Adam went about their task with a deficit was absolutely brilliant," he said. "They made Northants change their bowling strategy, bowling wide of the crease and blocking the offside, and that was a test because they were in good touch. They needed to be patient and ride out those periods when the scoreboard was not ticking over as they would like, and that is what was so impressive.
"Adam is playing well, he is top of the tree in county cricket and he is reaping the rewards for working incredibly hard to be better in all aspects of his game than he was last season. He really deserved that double hundred."
The extraordinary partnership between Lyth and Lees was a masterpiece of planning, patience and execution, turning the match on its head after Yorkshire conceded a first-innings deficit of 115 having been bowled out for 136. Then came the kill, delivered ruthlessly by a bowling attack shorn of Ryan Sidebottom but still, pound for pound, skill set for skill set, as good as if not better than any of their rival groups. Plunkett led the way, with 4 for 42, giving him 24 Championship wickets for the season at 24.83.
Three down overnight, Northamptonshire's survival chances never looked good, even after some rain in the morning delayed the start by 35 minutes, giving then nine fewer overs to negotiate. Those prospects worsened immediately, as Matthew Spriegel padded up to Tim Bresnan's first ball of the day and was leg before, offering no shot. From 66 for 4 they stumbled to 78-5 when Rob Keogh had no answer to a fine ball from Jack Brooks that lifted and left him. And Liam Plunkett was still waiting in the wings.
Plunkett is bowling superbly this season, completely at ease with his working life, grateful that Yorkshire want him only to do what he does best, which is to bowl fast, be hostile, be scary and not to worry if it does not always come off.
Andrew Gale tossed him the ball to bowl the 10th over of the morning, at 91 for 5, with the usual mandate. He struck with his 11th ball, banged in short, which Andrew Hall was going to pull but misjudged the line, spooning a catch to cover as he tried to abort. It was a horrible shot in the end but born of the uncertainty Plunkett creates.
Some resistance followed, relatively speaking. Ben Duckett, a gutsy little fighter with some talent too, hung around for an hour either side of lunch, taking a blow on his left wrist that needed treatment. But ultimately he could not resist Plunkett, who gave him a couple of balls into the body followed by wide one that the 19-year-old fished, getting himself caught behind.
Rob Newton showed some bravery too, batting for more than two hours, while Ian Butler's 37-ball duck deserves some credit, given that Plunkett hit him on the helmet.
Newton's luck ran out when he tried to lift another short, fast ball from the former Durham paceman over the slips but could not control the shot, sending it looping up for Aaron Finch, at first slip, to take, running back and behind second.
Adil Rashid removed Buttler leg before, the legspinner having thrown in a new set of problems. Maurice Chambers swung at everything but having been dropped at second slip on six he faced he lost his off stump to the ninth, and it was all over.