Durham 265 (Brooks 4-76) and 39 for 3 need a further 382 to beat Yorkshire 460 and 225 for 2 dec (Lyth 114*, Lees 88)
There is no such thing in Yorkshire as a perfect day. The very notion is an impertinence, a character flaw which must be eradicated. Yorkshire came extremely close to it at Headingley as they pressed for a hat-trick of Championship titles. They asserted themselves so emphatically against Durham with both bat and ball that victory looks comfortably within their grasp on the final day. Middlesex, the leaders, can feel their advantage being clipped away.
But nothing is ever perfect. To Yorkshire cricket historians this was another chance gone begging, another cause for a regretful shaking of heads, another opportunity squandered to right a wrong. This time it was Alex Lees who passed up the chance. Next year, it will be someone else. By the time this tiny blot on Yorkshire's cricketing landscape is removed, the cognoscenti who have long awaited the day in the darkest recesses of the decrepit old Rugby Stand, where the sun never dares intrude, can expect to be looking on from a stand altogether more palatial.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Yorkshire cricket fan in possession of a bit of brass must be in want of a Yearbook. Jane Austen never quite penned that line, but in Yorkshire cricket's alternative version of Pride and Prejudice, it is a fact nonetheless.
The 118th edition of the Yorkshire Yearbook carries on its front cover a picture of Andrew Gale, the captain, and Dickie Bird, a much-loved former player, president and lucky mascot, with the Championship trophy. With Durham, set 421 for victory, pruned back to 39 for 3 in the 16 overs by the close of the third day, expectations have never been as high that a third title is within range. Yorkshire, once more, look fit and strong. They can rarely have played as well as this all season.
But one statistic still refuses to deliver itself. That Yearbook reveals that 19 Yorkshire batsmen have scored two centuries in a match for the county, from David Denton at Trent Bridge in 1906 to Gary Ballance at The Oval in 2013. But none of them - not even the greatest names - have ever managed it at Headingley. The grim old ground refuses to cast its favours lightly.
Lees, with 132 already in the book, had the record in range as he and Adam Lyth extended Yorkshire's first-innings lead of 195. Runs were gobbled up at four an over, both batsmen entirely in charge. Lyth cut a dash and Lees possessed certainty and power in reserve. When Lees plays well, it suddenly becomes doubly apparent that here is a batsman with enough physical strength to bully an attack into submission, and that potential was evident from the outset.
But that historic second century would not come. He rattled off a first fifty in 66 balls, slowed a while after tea, and when he lifted Ryan Pringle over midwicket for six to reach 86, anticipation was whetted. Note to Yearbook editor: potential insert needed on p283. A statistician or two would have been consumed by a desire to dash on to the field and warn him. Then three balls later, with two more runs added, if he didn't drive at Pringle and edge to Michael Richardson. Well-merited applause was granted, Yearbooks closed, life's little imperfections borne stoutly once more.
The century went instead to Lyth, who followed Lees in the first innings by reaching 1000 first-class runs for the season. A stand of 185 was their biggest of the season. There is a sense that Lyth, Lees and, indeed, Ballance are all heading into form at precisely the right time. Adil Rashid, David Willey and Liam Plunkett could soon be on hand to bolster the attack. This has been an uneven Yorkshire season, but it is gathering pace on cue.
Yorkshire, like all good sides on their mettle, had a remorseless air. At 205 for 4 at start of play, still 255 behind, Durham's task was demanding but not impossible. By lunch, they had been dismissed for 265, Yorkshire's pace attack taking control as soon as the murky conditions lightened enough for them to bowl.
Ryan Sidebottom and Jack Brooks made excellent use of the second new ball, Brooks finishing with four wickets and bowling with verve and ambition, Sidebottom producing the best ball of all to strike Jack Burnham's off stump. Burnham's game resistance deserved a half-century, at the very least, but it was Sidebottom who cast a smile upon the world.
On a sunlit evening, armed with another new ball, they once again made eager inroads. Durham's openers, Mark Stoneman and Keaton Jennings, are instrumental in their success and Jack Brooks removed both, hurrying Stoneman into a pull that lobbed gently to mid-off and leaving Jennings for the wicketkeeper, Andrew Hodd, to hold the catch. That wicket delighted Brooks enough for him to indulge on one of his characteristic sprints around the square where he displays the excited exuberance of a loose horse in the National.
The final wicket, that of the young buck Burnham, went to Steve Patterson. He had been absent for much of the day for personal reasons, returned around tea, and committed himself physically and mentally once again to the job in hand. At times, little achievements can be worthy of considerable respect. The stuff of champions perhaps.