Plunkett tips balance in fascinating contest
Lancashire 196 and 41 for 1 need a further 308 to beat Yorkshire 308 and 236 (Plunkett 57, Wagner 4-71)
Clouds chasing each other across a torn, pavement-grey sky; tree branches jostling each other for room in a skittish wind; the Championship pennant tugging its flagpole in rebellious pride; a cloth sightscreen billowing at the Football Stand End; then floodlights throwing dark shadows.
It was a northern morning of stereotypical conception at Headingley on the third day of this game, a bowlers' morning too, you might think, although it seemed too cool for those who depended on swing. Spectators wrapped in their loyalties watched the cricket and they did so with a concentration that precluded other activities. For this has all the makings of a classic Roses match, albeit more an exquisite hybrid tea than a sprawling floribunda.
Yorkshire were in charge of the game when the third day began and they remain in control going into the final three sessions. A lead of 189 with seven second-innings wickets in hand at the start of play represented prosperity, and at just past three o'clock, when Jack Brooks was castled by Luke Procter, that affluence had been extended to 348.
Happily for those who revere statistical symmetry, Lancashire now need to make their seventh-highest fourth-innings score to win a first-class game and Yorkshire must concede their seventh-biggest score to lose one. The argument that the rivalry between these teams is so fierce because their approaches to cricket are so similar has been insufficiently investigated. Suddenly it is strengthened by the quiddity of numbers.
The odds, though, are by no means six to five and pick 'em. Lancashire have already lost Tom Smith, who miscued Steve Patterson to Liam Plunkett at short cover when he had made 15. Procter joined Haseeb Hameed and these two young scrappers took the total to 41 when bad light curtailed a very fine day's cricket 16.4 overs early. Lancashire will need to make the biggest total of the match to win it and they must score 308 runs in a day. Yorkshire need to take nine wickets on a pitch where no one has batted serenely. Hameed is probably looking forward to it.
The morning session offered cricket of the highest quality as a Lancashire attack strove to limit Yorkshire's lead. The visitors were weakened by the absence of Tom Bailey, whose side injury prevented him bowling. But such twists of fate only seem to inspire Neil Wagner, who removed Adam Lyth for 48 with the second ball of the morning when the Yorkshireman played down a line of his own imagination and lost his leg stump.
Things got even better for Lancashire as Patterson, the nightwatchman, was caught behind by Steven Croft off Smith and the irrepressible Wagner produced a fine lifter which Andrew Gale could only poke to Hameed at short leg. Inside seven overs of the morning Yorkshire had been cut down to 89 for 6 and their lead was 201.
But this Yorkshire team frequently find a way to prevent unpleasantness from degenerating into outright disaster. And they did so again as Adil Rashid tailored an innings suited to his team's needs rather than his own attacking instincts. While Tim Bresnan hit five off-side boundaries, Rashid played the role of a middle-order anchor and revealed another depth to his cricket. In consequence, 41 runs were added before Bresnan edged Procter to Liam Livingstone at first slip and departed in lofty dudgeon, having stood his ground in the belief the ball had bounced. That excellent slipper Livingstone, however, had already dropped Rashid on 10 off the same bowler; and the one he spilled may have mattered more than the one he pouched.
Plunkett came to the wicket but there was no change in Yorkshire's tactics. Rashid continued batting with the forced restraint of a naturally impish boy during the visit of a strict but well-heeled grandmother. The importance of the occasion and the possibility of reward suffocated any impulse towards transgression. The crowd's attention was undiminished, the chill air ignored. "The closeness has an air that listens," wrote Alan Ross in "JM Parks at Tunbridge Wells", a truly great poem written after the sight of the eponymous batsman making 188 against Kent in 1951 had awakened deep and various memories.
Plunkett played a fine attacking innings and the eighth-wicket stand was worth 74 runs when Rashid was caught in the short leg position off Simon Kerrigan for 34, Croft scampering round to take the catch. Plunkett continued in his merry way to a half-century, scattering the spectators on the top deck of the Kirkstall Lane End with a huge six, also off Kerrigan, two balls before holing out to Petersen for 57 from only 84 balls. By then, though, Yorkshire's lead was above 300. Sunlit pastures on a grey day.
And the cricket with ended with Hameed facing Bresnan, the two cricketers taking their roles in a deeper narrative: Haigh to JT Tyldesley, Hirst to Spooner, Macaulay to Makepeace, Bowes to Paynter, Trueman to Washbrook, Nicholson to Pilling, Old to Wood, Gough to Atherton.
"The past is never dead," wrote William Faulkner in Requiem for a Nun, "It isn't even past." And now Bresnan to Hameed…