Lyth's poise brings prize closer
Yorkshire 319 for 4 (Lyth 122, Lees 86, Ballance 82*) v Nottinghamshire
Perhaps if the Yorkshire team had stumbled across buried treasure or shared a lottery win, this match could have begun even better. But, for a side with the Championship title within reach, this was close to a perfect day.
Starting the penultimate round of games with a lead of 26 points and playing against their nearest challengers, Yorkshire claimed another three batting points and established a position of dominance in the match. It will take a miracle to deny them now.
It was fitting that Adam Lyth, the 26-year-old left-hander, led the way after getting a life second ball. He has enjoyed a prolific season - he passed 1,500 first-class runs during this innings - and has played a significant role in his side's likely triumph. Here he recorded his seventh first-class century - six of them in the Championship - of the campaign and provide another reminder of his increasingly compelling England credentials. A Lions tour place, perhaps opening accompanying Sam Robson, looks likely.
Alongside Alex Lees, the latest in the production line of outstanding Yorkshire batting talent, Lyth posted 176 for Yorkshire's first wicket. It was the pair's fourth century stand in the Championship this season, to go with six half-century stands. Their average opening partnership of 76.05 has been a key part in the side's success. Both look high-class players.
They might not have had the chance to form this partnership at another club. At a less selfless club, or a club less committed to developing local talent, the partnership might have been spilt up at Lord's, earlier this season, when Joe Root returned to the side. Instead the club captain, Andrew Gale, made the courageous decision to drop himself. Leadership comes in many forms and Alastair Cook might reflect on the example.
If Lees, wonderfully elegant through the covers, never looked quite as comfortable against spin, Lyth looked something close to the complete player. Strong on the drive and the cut, he also manoeuvred the ball for singles expertly and helped his side concede just two maidens against 34 overs of spin.
As things stand, he is one of just four Yorkshire openers to have batted through a Championship season of 20 innings or more and averaged in excess of 70. Geoff Boycott did it twice, Herbert Sutcliffe did it three times and Sir Len Hutton did it once. To be in such distinguished company speaks volumes for Lyth's class.
"I've no doubt he can do well in Test cricket," his coach, Jason Gillespie said afterwards. "He knows his game really well and can score all round the wicket. He and Lees have been fantastic this season.
"Gale didn't want to split them up. It was selfless leadership to sacrifice his own place in the side and was a massive boost for them to be backed like that by their captain.
"They established a strong platform for us today. There is a long way to go, but we are really pleased with our day's work."
But Nottinghamshire will rue some missed opportunities. Not only was Lyth dropped before he had scored - the normally reliable Chris Read putting down a routine outside edge from the second delivery of the day - but Lees was missed twice by Riki Wessels at short-leg off Gary Keedy. The first time he had 30 and the second time 45.
Just as importantly, Nottinghamshire may reflect that they bowled too full for the first half of the day. On an easy-paced wicket with just a tinge of green, Lyth and Lees were presented with a succession of driveable deliveries and accumulated 114 runs in boundaries between them. Missing Andrew Carter and Andre Admas to injury and deciding to omit Ajmal Shahzad, the attack lacked a bit of potency.
They might have included Sam Wood. The 21-year-old has only taken three first-class wickets but looks one of the more promising young offspinners in the land and could have proven dangerous against a top-three full of left-handers. At another club, he would have been preferred to the 39-year-old Keedy. But backing their own young talent is not exactly the Nottinghamshire way.
To be fair, Keedy bowled pretty nicely. He eventually saw Wessels cling on to an outstanding diving effort at short-leg to end Lees' innings and then deceived Lyth in the flight and was rewarded with a caught and bowled. Root, captain in place of the suspended Gale, was adjudged, perhaps unfortunately, leg before to the hard-working but not hugely accurate Harry Gurney and Jonny Bairstow was brilliantly caught in the gully, a victim of the second new ball and Luke Fletcher's typically probing display.
But Gary Ballance remains. With that solid defence and unflappable temperament that is going to become so wearingly familiar to bowlers around the world, he picked off anything loose and consolidated Yorkshire's strong position. With Nottinghamshire only taking one bonus point throughout the day, the title is heading inexorably towards Yorkshire.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo