Sussex grateful for Yardy's sterling service
Sussex 493 for 7 (Yardy 124, Brown 106*, Joyce 100) trail Yorkshire 494 by 1 run
The standing ovation that greeted Michael Yardy's century oozed warmth that cannot be faked. It celebrated not merely his century against Yorkshire, timely as that was, but also the impact an admirable cricketer, who will retire this year, has had over 16 seasons of Championship cricket for Sussex.
Many of those applauding would have remembered the state of Sussex in 2000, when Yardy made his first-class debut. The new age of two division Championship cricket began with Sussex the worst first-class county in the land, just as they had been in 1997. Yardy averaged just 9.14 in his four first-class games.
No one would have envisaged what has happened to player or county since. Used to being caricatured as an amiable but rather lightweight club by the seaside, Sussex became the most formidable Championship team in the land. They finally ended their wait for the Championship crown in 2003, and added titles in 2006 and 2007 for good measure.
If the leadership of Chris Adams, the batting nous of Murray Goodwin and above all the brilliance of Mushtaq Ahmed were the abiding memories of those triumphs, Yardy's contribution to the last two victories was invaluable, albeit typically understated: 1646 first-class runs at 44.48 across the summers of 2006 and 2007.
It was during 2006 that Yardy was first selected for England. He always retained the air of being an accidental international cricketer, his left-arm darts acting as an antidote to an era of mystery spin. But they were unremittingly accurate and, especially in Twenty20 cricket, fiendishly difficult to hit boundaries off. In the Caribbean in May 2010, Yardy became a critical part of the only ever English side to win a global ICC event.
It was the most notable professional achievement of Yardy's career. Yet it could not halt his outbreak of depression, which led him to pull out of an ODI in September 2010 and then fly home from Colombo three days before the quarter-final of the 2011 World Cup.
Sussex, who he captained from 2009 to 2013, helped to sustain him through these challenging times. Often it was not easy: Yardy once had to leave the pitch midway through a game against Middlesex, sensing "danger" in the field. He still battles depression today.
Just as Sussex are grateful for what he has given them, so Yardy is grateful for what the club have given him. When he kissed the club helmet after reaching his century, it did not feel premeditated or inauthentic. In an age of uncertainty over the county game, with a growing chasm between the quality of the cricket in the divisions, the age of the locally-reared, one club player may be nearing the close. This century, there have been few better than Yardy.
It was a truth acknowledged by the Yorkshire players who shook his hand both after Yardy had reached his landmark and after he was dismissed playing across the line to Ryan Sidebottom for 124. The sight of Yardy, eschewing elegance for effectiveness, manipulating the ball into gaps and scything anything wide through point, has become familiar indeed to Yorkshire: this was his fifth first-class century against the champions.
And how Yardy's first hundred since May 2014 was worth savouring. Rain had delayed the start until 2pm, so the applause Yardy enjoyed as he removed his helmet and trudged off came from only a few hundred spectators. In its way that was apt: at its core Sussex remain a familial club, and few members of it have been more valued than Yardy. "It's a very special club and as Sussex players, coaches and support staff we've got to keep it that tight club but also a competitive club that continually achieves," he said.
It was revealing that, asked about the highlights of his career, Yardy first cited being awarded his county cap. "To get the opportunity to play for your county and stay all your career at one county is very special. There's been plenty of highs and a few lows but that's the rollercoaster you're on. I wouldn't change it for the world."
Having begun his career with Sussex at the bottom of Division Two, Yardy's resilience has gone a long way towards ensuring they remain in Division One, where they have spent all but one season since 2002.
The docility of the Hove wicket highlights the value of a draw to Sussex. But, even so, to reach full batting points against an attack with Yorkshire's quality and variety was quite a feat, and owed to much more than the efforts of Yardy. Oli Robinson played fluently for two hours as nightwatchman. And in the final session Ben Brown reverse-swept with such alacrity that he reached a century in just 84 balls.
With crucial games against Worcestershire and Somerset looming, Sussex's challenge is to ensure that they do not need to produce something similar in Yardy's final Championship game, at Headingley next month.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts