Notts go top despite frustrating draw
Nottinghamshire 545 for 7 dec drew with Yorkshire 178 and 406 for 8
Nottinghamshire are back on top of the First Division but felt robbed nonetheless after wet weather came to Yorkshire's aid and denied them the chance to put clear daylight between themselves and the rest as the race for the County Championship enters its decisive phase.
Yorkshire were eight down and only 39 runs ahead at tea on the last day, with 34 overs still left in the day's schedule. But heavy rain meant no further play was possible. With five matches left against Yorkshire's four, the Trent Bridge side's five-point advantage makes them favourites, although Somerset - only eight points behind Yorkshire - remain contenders and they might yet pose the greater threat.
But Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's director of cricket, did not pretend the comfort of a bigger cushion would have been preferable, particularly with Somerset at home next week while his side sits out a round.
Nottinghamshire do have one advantage in that three of their remaining matches are at home, where they have tended to play their best cricket. Bottom of the table Warwickshire are due at Trent Bridge on August 16.
By then, Nottinghamshire will hope to have clarified the future of their England fast bowler, Ryan Sidebottom, who has yet to sign a new contract offer. The left-armer's current deal expires at the end of this season and Sussex are believed to be in the hunt should he leave Nottingham, where he is holding out for a longer deal.
Sidebottom indicated this week that he would like "to see out my career with Nottinghamshire" and Newell said that the parties hoped to reach an agreement after Twenty20 finals day.
"You could see by the way Ryan bowled in this match that there is no doubt about his commitment when he wears a Nottinghamshire shirt. This will probably be the final contract of Ryan's career and we feel we have made him a good offer, although there is sticking point over the length of the deal."
Newell said the result at Headingley left the race for the title in the balance. "It is frustrating because we had a chance to open up a 20-point lead, although everyone has at least one game a season in which they feel they were robbed. A lead of five points at this stage is neither here nor there and we need to start winning games."
Yorkshire's plan had been to bat through the day but it was a risky strategy, given that they did not have the cushion of runs in the bank were Nottinghamshire's bowling to prove more effective than it had been on day three.
They resumed still 95 in arrears and, while eight wickets in hand gave them a degree of security, under cloud cover and with rain in the air there was always the danger that a couple of good balls early on could give fresh impetus to the visitors.
Yet Yorkshire showed no inclination to hurry, mindful perhaps that the weather might come to their aid in accounting at least for a few overs. Steve Patterson, the nightwatchman, had a job to do and applied himself diligently, but Anthony McGrath lasted only five overs before playing back to a ball from Darren Pattinson that deviated late enough to catch the edge of his defensive bat and fly into the gloves of Chris Read behind the stumps. It left McGrath still 20 short of joining Adam Lyth and Jacques Rudolph in completing 1,000 first-class runs for the season.
Incoming batsman Andrew Gale continued Yorkshire's defensive plan. An hour and 35 minutes passed before there was a four scored off the bat - the one previous boundary was in leg-byes -and it was Patterson who claimed it, steering a ball from Ryan Sidebottom through the gully area.
But the possibility of the plan backfiring began to gather strength just before lunch as Gale, seeking to meet a delivery from Sidebottom with a firm push, somehow hit himself on the foot with his bat and the ball ended up in the hands of the bowler. Sidebottom appealed and the umpire's raised finger confirmed that the ball had come off Gale's bat and the Yorkshire captain departed, limping.
The morning session had produced only 53 runs in 30 overs, with just that one boundary, but the statistic of more concern was that Yorkshire, while only four down, were still 42 short of requiring Nottinghamshire to bat again, let alone have something of substance to chase.
It had been a good effort by Patterson, but his vigilance was exhausted 10 minutes after lunch when Mark Wagh snapped up a bat-pad catch at silly mid-off as the nightwatchman tried to work left-arm spinner Samit Patel into the leg side, and when Jonathan Bairstow drove down the wrong line to Sidebottom, alarm bells began to ring for the home side.
Six down and still 31 behind, the potential for embarrassment was now very real and it was perverse, in a way, after what had gone before, that Bairstow's departure prefaced a stand between Adil Rashid and Gerard Brophy that, by comparison, was positively expansive.
Rashid's instincts are clearly curbed less easily. The stroke-playing leg-spinner picked up five boundaries - off Andre Adams, Patel and Paul Franks - from some meaty drives through the off side, which at least put Yorkshire in front.
But when Sidebottom had Brophy caught behind after tempting the wicketkeeper to drive a ball just short of a length, and then had Shahzad caught by Adams at gully, Yorkshire were 406 for 8 and facing the prospect of trying to survive a minimum of 34 overs in the final session - probably more - with a lead of only 39.
Happily for them - frustratingly for Nottinghamshire - rain was already falling as they left the field and continued long enough to make mopping up time to resume impossible.