Rudolph double piles on Durham misery
Yorkshire 610 for 6 dec v Durham 54 for 3
Those who scoffed at Yorkshire's self-belief after the side tipped for relegation had won their opening two matches might decide to keep their thoughts to themselves if Andrew Gale's young team can turn a compellingly strong position in this contest into an emphatic victory over the defending champions.
It not yet being May, there is a temptation to dismiss early-season results as not particularly relevant, on the basis that there is still a long way to go. In fact, after what had appeared to be a ridiculously early start, bound to be ruined by the weather, has instead produced three weeks of unbroken and positive cricket, we may be witnessing the decisive phase of the campaign.
Durham's crown has not slipped yet - they did, after all, beat Hampshire, supposedly a key rival, only last week - but they are looking much less invincible than had been supposed, particularly with their bowling resources so stretched. A comeback game for Graham Onions is still some way off and Steve Harmison's back is taking time to heal. Given that those two shared 96 wickets last season, it is little wonder Durham are feeling their absence.
Here they need to reach 461 merely to avoid the follow on after a second day dominated by Yorkshire, in which the redoubtable Jacques Rudolph, despite taking a bang on the helmet when a shot from partner and fellow centurion Anthony McGrath caught him with a glancing blow, expanded an epic innings to seven and three quarter hours, eclipsing his own personal best.
Having laboured so long in the field, unable to make much headway on a slow pitch against batsmen happy to accumulate rather than take liberties, they might have hoped at least to post a sizeable total of their own, but after losing three wickets in the last session, their prospects look less than rosy.
Ominously, moreover, they lost two of those wickets to consecutive deliveries by Adil Rashid, the leg-spinner, who has the experience now to deliver what Durham's Scott Borthwick, the 20-year-old, could only hint at.
Rudolph, the South African left-hander, walked off unbeaten on 228, bettering the 222 not out he made on his Test debut against Bangladesh in 2003, after Gale had decided he had enough in the bank 38 minutes after tea.
The runs took his tally for the season to 473. He is on course already to be Yorkshire's top scorer for the fourth season running. A controversial signing when he arrived in 2007, penning a Kolpak deal only five months after playing his 36th Test for South Africa, Yorkshire can count themselves fortunate to have him. His arrival might have been blocked in the first place but, after passing the revised Kolpak criteria for this season, he is contracted to stay now until the end of next season.
Bizarrely, he and McGrath attracted criticism for scoring too slowly at times yesterday, not least when the chance to push on for a fourth batting point was allowed to pass with no discernible change in approach. But perhaps that is a legacy of the tempo at which much of today's cricket tends to be played, prompting questions to be asked if a feat happens not to be achieved at high speed.
A measured approach is sometimes exactly what is required and this Rudolph innings should not be considered a lesser achievement just because it was more workmanlike than classical. And no batsman hits 35 boundaries without unfurling the odd high-quality shot and when there are so many running off towards the fence it is easy for the appreciation to be dulled.
The partnership with McGrath was in itself a tour de force, adding 206 in 74 overs and grinding Durham's spirits to dust, even if it ended a little farcically, McGrath setting off for a run to mid-off, Rudolph declining and Dale Benkenstein hurting his knee as he retrieved the ball and executed the run-out.
Gale missed an opportunity of his own, driving a widish ball from Liam Plunkett to square cover, before Borthwick bowled Jonathan Bairstow and had Rashid caught low down at extra cover. Borthwick's overs were experience in the bank for a young player who will hope to emulate Rashid.
They were of small consolation later, however. Durham survived Tino Best's first Championship overs for Yorkshire but lost Kyle Coetzer when Rudolph grabbed a catch at first slip off Steve Patterson at the second attempt before two Rashid googlies accounted for Will Smith and nightwatchman Mark Davies. They have it all to do on day three.