Lees leads fight for weakened Yorkshire
Yorkshire 298 for 9 (Lees 87, Bresnan 78*, Shantry 4-60, Andrew 4-81) trail Worcestershire 311 (Fell 114, Moeen 62, Andrew 59, Brooks 5-56) by 13 runs
Some visiting spectators at New Road could have been forgiven for letting their thoughts stray to Antigua on the second afternoon of this game. As Yorkshire's batsmen, led by skipper Alex Lees and Tim Bresnan, battled hard and successfully to all but match Worcestershire's very decent first-innings 311, the quartet of White Rose tourists not included in England's Test team were taking their ease in the West Indies and may have been wondering how things were going at New Road.
The feeling was mutual. The underemployment of their players has not pleased one or two members of Yorkshire hierarchy and club president Dickie Bird has been talking openly about getting Adil Rashid and others back playing cricket in England, especially if, as expected, Moeen Ali joins the England party after this match. For their part, Worcestershire supporters, who gave Moeen the warmest of ovations on the first day of the Championship season, will certainly wish one of their favourite cricketers all the best if England's management summon him to the Caribbean, albeit that they may hardly see him again this season.
Perhaps the very many spectators who gave their full attention to the fine cricket at Worcester took the wisest route to perfect contentment. They would have watched Yorkshire's acting captain Lees play almost the quintessential captain's innings in making a high-class 87 before he was fifth out, trapped low down on the front foot by Gareth Andrew, who marked his return to the County Championship with four wickets to add to his first-innings fifty.
Yet Andrew was just one member of an effective five-man bowling attack, whose accuracy and penetration broadly supported the case that Worcestershire will offer nobody easy pickings this season. After Andrew's 59 had helped the tail add 47 runs to their overnight score, Daryl Mitchell's men had just the start they might have fantasised about when Will Rhodes edged a drive off Charlie Morris to the skipper at second slip and Cheteshwar Pujara nicked Andrew to third slip where Tom Fell took a fine low catch. Both men made ducks and Yorkshire were 3 for 2
Lees and Richard Pyrah ensured that the champions suffered no further reverses before lunch and Lees reinforced his fast-growing reputation among cricket's cognoscenti with some thoroughbred strokes, including classy sixes off both Sachithra Senanayake and Jack Shantry. All the same, the sun emerged during the lunch break as if to complement the optimism that was gradually seeping around the New Road.
That this gentle warmth was more pathetic fallacy than sad error was emphasised when Pyrah was caught at slip by Mitchell off Shantry for a well-made 43, thus ending his 108-run third-wicket stand with Lees. Shantry's canny left-arm seamers, bowled from around the wicket though at no great pace, also posed problems for Jack Leaning and he claimed his man when Yorkshire's No. 5 shaped to play to leg and was lbw for 10.
Hodd offered Lees some support in a 45-run stand for the fifth wicket but Andrew removed both batsmen in the space of seven overs, Hodd limply steering the seamer to slip where Mitchell took his third catch of the day. And when Shantry clipped the top of Steve Patterson's off stump and Ryan Sidebottom limped off with a calf injury, leaving Lees's team on 207-7, Worcestershire may have been contemplating a handy first-innings lead.
Sidebottom later returned as last man to face a few balls late in the day but he left the ground on crutches and is highly unlikely to bowl again in this match. And given that this is the season when, as Old Capulet reminded Paris, "well-apparelled April on the heel of limping winter treads", we should not have been surprised that somebody went in the fetlock.
Yorkshire, though, are not champions for nothing and adversity frequently brings out the stubborn best in them. Tim Bresnan hit eight fine fours in reaching a 57-ball fifty and he added 67 with Jack Brooks before the former Northants seamer was caught behind by Cox to give Andrew the fourth wicket of a memorable day. Shantry had Karl Carver caught at short leg in the penultimate over but Bresnan finished the day unbeaten on 78. Indeed, the game is already building into something of a spring classic with spectators having the added bonus of a newly cleared view of the west front of St Peter's Cathedral after the council chopped down five mighty poplars over the winter.
The felling of the trees apparently caused a couple of arboreally fond Worcestershire supporters to resign their memberships. County chairman Steve Taylor, on the other hand, says that the improved aspect of the cathedral has doubled wedding bookings, thus proving, one might conclude, that even behind the revelations of the Divine, the grasping hand of Mammon can be glimpsed.