Vince's class and Ervine's grit lift Hampshire
Hampshire 450 for 8 (Ervine 123, Vince 119, Wheater 62, McLaren 55*) trail Yorkshire 593 for 9 dec by 143 runs
Hampshire's coach Dale Benkenstein had been scathing about Hampshire's inadequate display in the field on the second day at Headingley. He would have been happier with the response. The polish of James Vince, an England Test-batsman-in-waiting whose time feels nigh, and an innings of defiance by Sean Ervine as he feared the worst about a hand injury provided two hundreds that left pride well and truly restored.
Vince has an excellent chance of a Test debut against Sri Lanka at Lord's. Ervine's immediate future is less clear-cut. He was struck on the same index finger that caused a two-month absence last season and, fearing what may lie in wait, he will delay an x-ray until he returns to see a specialist in Southampton.
When Yorkshire's scoreboard flashed up birthday greetings before the start of play to Jason Gillespie, the coach, and Dickie Bird, the former Test umpire turned cult follower, there had been an assumption that they would make substantial progress towards a first Championship win by the close of the third day.
Instead, they had to commit themselves to a day of unrelenting toil as Hampshire lost only three wickets all day. "Nivver," Bird would have exclaimed if offered this forecast at start of play. But the Leeds skies were a strange colour identified by older spectators as blue, the pitch lost energy and Vince and Ervine logged hundreds which were impressive for different reasons. After a hard-fought day, the follow-on had been averted, and Hampshire's deficit had been trimmed to 143 with two wickets remaining.
Benkenstein has signalled that loan signings are in the offing to cover for injuries in the seam-bowling ranks, but Hampshire had felt his criticism all the same. "I can't really accept what we dished up with the ball," he had said. "That performance out there in the field is not good enough. We can't expect a miracle like we produced last year in the last four games."
His captain was the first to respond. There is a classiness about Vince that turns many of his admirers into zealots. He did the hardest work on the second evening, 76 to his name by stumps, and reached 119 before he misread a big inswinger from Steve Patterson and, struck high on the back pad, was adjudged lbw on the leave.
The national selector James Whitaker had the expression of a man feeling short-changed as he zeroed in on the nearest camera to study a replay, but there seemed little cause to curse the decision, only the absence of stroke.
With Nick Compton not nailing down the No. 3 England batting spot in South Africa and a space vacated at No. 5 by James Taylor's career-ending heart condition, there are places to be had - middle-order places if Joe Root steps up to first-wicket down. Vince is the uncapped Test batsman with the biggest well of support. Benkenstein termed him "international class", many have come to that view and there is a gathering suspicion that England feel it is the right time to find out.
After Monday's horror show, though, when Yorkshire's relentless marauders, Jonny Bairstow and Liam Plunkett needed only 27 overs to add 228 for the seventh wicket, Benkenstein was even more in need of something doughty. He found it in a flinty hundred for Ervine, five-and-a-half hours of resistance after the Zimbabwean had been struck on the bottom hand by Plunkett.
Ervine, on 20, needed prolonged treatment and painkillers and upon the resumption was thoroughly tested on the short ball by Plunkett, the most hostile phase of the day, with a couple of balls popping perilously close to short leg (the captain, Andrew Gale, stationing himself there, at a suitable distance) and Ervine withdrawing his hand instinctively from another short delivery.
A cover drive against Patterson offered his first release and the threat waned sooner than expected. The second new ball, taken at 233 for 6, proved to be no panacea, Adil Rashid's legspin was also repelled comfortably, and Ervine found himself acquitting himself more ably than he might have imagined in successive stands of 62 with Adam Wheater - eventually chipped out at midwicket by Patterson - and 59 with Ryan McLaren.
It is tempting to link the way this pitch has died by referencing the new toss regulations which have undoubtedly made pitches flatter over the first two weeks of the season. But it is not unusual for Headingley to go flat when the skies clear; it is just unusual for the skies to clear. The forecast is for the fine weather to persist. David Willey, rested out of this match after his England exploits, has not been badly served by a delayed debut.
One old stager, though, still managed to nip in for a record. It was Ryan Sidebottom who finally ended Ervine's innings, a catch for wicketkeeper Bairstow which brought up Sidebottom's 1,000th wicket across all formats. A landmark that he did not overly celebrate, either because he is not that sort of man, it is not that sort of record, or it was not that sort of day. All three probably. "It probably just shows he's getting old," said Gillespie.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps