Loye and Laxman heap pressure on Yorkshire
Yorkshire 181 (Gale 54, Smith 6-46, Mahmood 3-57) and 71 for 2 trail Lancashire 489 for 5 (Loye 146, Laxman 109) by 237 runs
The Red Rose remained rampant at Old Trafford on the third day of the Roses match, thanks to excellent centuries by Mal Loye and VVS Laxman, who shared a third-wicket partnership of 225 runs. By the close Lancashire, after gaining a lead on first innings of 308 with only five wickets down, were poised for a crushing victory, barring either rain or unexpected circumstances on the final day.
The weather during the day had the rare virtue of consistency: cloudy but dry, with occasional intrusions of sunshine. Lancashire began on 219 for 2 and, if Yorkshire believed in omens, the first over was indeed ominous. Has a legspinner ever bowled the first over of a day in a Roses match before? In any case, it was Adil Rashid bowling to Mal Loye, who hit his third ball straight for six and his fifth in the same direction for four, bouncing only inches short of the boundary. This was not how Roses matches were conducted in the twenties and thirties, and the likes of Arthur Mitchell and Harry Makepeace will be spinning in their graves.
In the next over, Ajmal Shahzad bowled a no-ball, which VVS Laxman obligingly swatted into the hands of backward point. Yorkshire quickly brought on Matthew Hoggard, and a fine drive by Laxman was unexpectedly fielded by Loye's foot as he turned his back. But the Indian got under way with a square drive to the boundary. Rashid stayed on, but went round the wicket, still attacking, and this did manage to control the scoring. Loye continued his heavy-handed approach, while Laxman played a few fine strokes but, not in his best form, had the wisdom to play strictly within his limitations.
The landmarks came: Laxman reached 50, off 110 balls, with a superb on-drive for four off Hoggard, and Loye, after edging a ball into the slips on 97 that just failed to carry, slashed a ball through the covers to reach his century off 158 balls. After lunch the run-rate increased and Laxman batted more fluently, showing his Asian partiality for spin by treating the long-suffering Rashid roughly. Yorkshire were facing the looming possibility of failing to take a single point in the match when finally Loye aimed a massive blow, but failed to read Rashid's googly, which knocked back his middle stump. He had made 146 off 234 balls, with 18 fours and 2 sixes.
Lancashire were now aiming for a fifth batting point, but the loss of Loye meant they needed to score 15 off the 120th over, bowled by Rashid, to achieve it. Laxman, in the nineties, followed a beautiful cover-drive for four with a skilful dab to third man to reach his century - 203 balls - and then, with Yorkshire's field all virtually on the boundary, placed the last ball so skilfully as to take the two runs required to reach the landmark. Then, after another classic boundary, he attempted his exquisite cut to third man once too often, to a ball from Rashid well outside his off stump and edged a catch straight to slip for 109.
With Faf du Plessis driving a straightforward catch to short extra cover for 18, Lancashire were 460 for 5 at tea, and a declaration was widely expected at that point. They opted, however, to go for a lead of over 300, and batted on for four more overs after the interval. The final total was 489, the lead 308. The Yorkshire bowling never went to pieces, as their fielding did at times, but was little more than bland, in the face of much outstanding batting.
Yorkshire's task was not hopeless on a pitch still basically good, and even without any rain they still have the capability to bat out the match, though this did not look likely after their poor first-innings display. They soon lost their most likely batsman for a dour fight, Joe Sayers, for a single, cramped up by a good ball from Sajid Mahmood that moved away and had him taken at second slip. When Gary Keedy came on to bowl his left-arm spin for the first time in the match, with a tight ring of fielders around him, Anthony McGrath almost turned this into an inspired move, as in his first over he nearly sliced a catch to backward point. But at the other end he was beaten by a fine ball from Tom Smith that came back sharply and trapped him lbw.
Fortunately for Yorkshire, Jacques Rudolph, who once batted throughout a day to save a Test match against Australia, of all teams, knuckled down and played a very sound defensive innings, just what is required under the circumstances. With Andrew Gale he saw out the day, but the White Roses have a long hard battle ahead of them if they are to avoid one of their most humiliating defeats at the hands of their neighbours.