Worcestershire v Yorkshire, New Road, 4th day June 19, 2009

Rafiq shows talent with a ton

John Ward at Worcester

Worcestershire 415 and 203 for 3 (Moore 52) drew with Yorkshire 516 (Gale 101, Rafiq 100, Bresnan 97, Whelan 4-130)

A newspaper article stated that today is the happiest day of the year. It certainly was for Yorkshire's 18-year-old all-rounder Azeem Rafiq, who scored his first century. But there was little joy for anybody after lunch, as the only winner of this match was a pitch so moribund that on the fourth day 306 runs could be scored for the loss of only five wickets.

Yorkshire, two runs behind Worcestershire overnight with two wickets in hand, soon took the lead. Rafiq, who began the day with 62, had lost none of his confidence and panache, and was soon laying into the bowlers with freedom. Even Matthew Hoggard felt inclined to shed his dogged image and indulge in the frivolity of free strokeplay, and the scoreboard fairly rattled along. Such enterprise did entail risks, and both got away with some lucky nicks, most of which carried for four, and when Hoggard had 37 he was dropped off a difficult chance by second slip.

Rafiq showed occasional caution but remarkably few nerves on approaching his century, in only his second first-class match. A swat past midwicket for four took him to three figures, one of Yorkshire's youngest century-makers at 18 years and 112 days; he is about two months older than Len Hutton was when he first achieved the feat for Yorkshire - against the same team on the same ground - in 1934. It was no doubt considerably faster than Hutton's 196, as it took him only 92 balls. He soon lost concentration and lofted down the throat of long-on, but it had been a superb innings, containing 13 fours and three sixes in a stand with Hoggard worth 150.

Deon Kruis started confidently with a three, and the run rampage was continued by Yorkshire's last two batsmen. The Worcestershire bowling was totally ineffective rather than ragged and they seemed to lack initiative or direction in the field. Hoggard reached his fifty off 94 balls with two classic off-side drives, and another 32 were added in 16 minutes before Kruis swung across the line and was bowled for 16, leaving Hoggard unbeaten with 56. Overall Chris Whelan had been Worcestershire's best bowler with 4 wickets for 130, but he had also looked quite helpless against Yorkshire's rampant tail-enders.

There was no realistic chance of an outright result, however, on such a placid pitch. After their struggles this year, Worcestershire will be relieved to secure a draw, but there are altogether too many indecisive championship matches these days on pitches like these, which allow such high scoring even on the fourth day. Worcestershire had no doubts about their ability to bat out the day, and began in aggressive spirit, with Daryl Mitchell hitting Tim Bresnan for four and three off the first two balls of the innings. With Stephen Moore then driving straight for another boundary, it was an expensive first over. Bresnan soon retired with a slight hip injury, joining Hoggard, still feeling the effects of a blow on the helmet while batting. Yorkshire therefore had a seriously weakened attack, but given the state of the match it hardly mattered.

The 50 came up in the eleventh over, and the openers registered 67 before Mitchell swept at Rafiq and was out lbw for 32. Moore reached his second fifty of the match with a six off Rafiq over long-on but was then bowled for 52 by a faster ball from Ajmal Shahzad that shot through fairly low. The third wicket to fall was that of Vikram Solanki, caught at slip off a very good ball from Rafiq for 48. The match then trailed off to its predictably dull finish, despite a lot of good cricket that had gone before.