Yorkshire tail turns the tables
Yorkshire 413 for 8 (Bresnan 97, Azeem 62*) trail Worcestershire 415 (Davies 112, Mitchell 68, Moore 60, Ali 55) by two runs
Modern first-class cricket, it often appears, is all about winning sessions. If that is so, then Yorkshire won the dramatic third day at Worcester two-one. In the first session Worcestershire induced a disastrous Yorkshire top-order batting collapse and doubtless entertained visions of victory. During the afternoon session, Andrew Gale and Tim Bresnan turned the innings around for Yorkshire with a fighting partnership, before late in the day the young Azeem Rafiq hammered a lightning unbeaten 62 to rub salt into the wounds of the tiring bowlers. But, overall, with the first innings as yet incomplete, a draw is a certainty on the final day, barring remarkable happenings.
Yorkshire began the day on 55 for 1. Michael Vaughan greeted the first ball of the day, from Matt Mason, with a fierce slash outside the off stump, which fortunately for him missed the ball. Thereafter he played scarcely a shot in anger, his majestic form of the previous evening having totally deserted him as he scratched around to record just a single in 20 minutes' play. Kabir Ali gave him quite a bit of trouble in particular. Joe Sayers played his usual tenacious game and 24 runs were scored in the first hour, 11 to Vaughan and 13 to Sayers.
Vaughan did register a six in his innings - an attempted pull took the top edge and the ball flew over the keeper. But two balls later the bowler, Chris Whelan, had his revenge and Vaughan sliced a catch to gully. His morning contribution had been 22 runs in 80 minutes, and his 43 was his highest first-class score of the season. This started half an hour of disaster for Yorkshire, the first of four wickets to fall in quick succession.
Anthony McGrath (6) hooked Whelan and skied a catch to the keeper, and then Sayers, with 44 off 98 balls, fended off a rising ball into the gully off Ashley Noffke. Finally Jonny Bairstow, the hero of his debut match against Somerset last week, fell first ball this time; he tried too late to withdraw his bat, but edged the ball low to the keeper, from whom it rebounded to second slip. This was Whelan's third wicket, and Yorkshire were reeling at 108 for 5.
From the edge of disaster, though, came a superb fightback. Not a wicket was lost in the afternoon session as Tim Bresnan, always a fighter, accompanied by the more cautious Andrew Gale, put together an invaluable sixth-wicket partnership that was eventually to realise 170 runs and carry Yorkshire from the danger of the follow-on - and give Worcestershire's hopes of victory a serious battering.
Runs flowed freely particularly in the half-hour after lunch as Bresnan's calculated aggression and fighting spirit made a nonsense of what had gone on before his arrival at the crease. Gale played very well and soundly in support, with Bresnan first to his 50, which came off 74 balls with a cut for four off Gareth Batty. In the meantime Vikram Solanki was attracting criticism for his unimaginative captaincy; as one local man said, "If Plan A doesn't work, there is never any Plan B to fall back on."
Soon after tea the follow-on figure of 266 was avoided, with Bresnan reaching the nineties. He richly deserved a century, but sadly this honour was denied him, as he was three short when he edged a ball from Kabir into the slips. His 97 lasted 145 balls, contained 11 fours, mainly through powerful drives, and had pulled Yorkshire out of a massive hole at the hands of the only county below them in the Division One table.
Ajmal Shahzad vowed to continue the fight, looking confident from the start and soon driving and pulling Kabir for successive boundaries. Whelan returned and bowled a fine spell, eventually pushing Shahzad on to the back foot and trapping him lbw for 19. Later in the over, though, Whelan could not prevent Gale from cutting him for four to reach a thoroughly well-deserved century, off 186 balls. Unfortunately he then lost concentration and three balls later played an airy drive to a ball from Batty and was caught at mid-off for 101. However, he left the Yorkshire innings in a far healthier position at 334 for 8 than he found it. He hit a six and 13 fours.
Then came the most exciting batting of the day, although the disappointed home crowd may not have fully appreciated it. Azeem took the stage for a superb cameo, during which he pulled a no-ball from Whelan for six and then drove him stylishly through the covers for four, strokes belying his position at No. 9 in the batting order. His small body packs a powerful punch, as was clear when he hit a ball from Batty high onto the roof of the New Road Stand, and then reached his 50 off 36 balls with another pull for six off Mason. He finished the day unbeaten, no doubt ready to continue his assault on the final day, with Yorkshire close to a first-innings lead which in modern cricket is really meaningless.