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Lees fortifies Yorkshire's hat-trick hopes

Yorkshire 341 for 5 (Lees 132, Ballance 71, Lehmann 58) v Durham
Scorecard

Do it for Dizzy is not yet emblazoned across Headingley, but it seems an appropriate exhortation as the Championship season reaches its climax. Jason Gillespie is heading back to Australia at the end of the season and Yorkshire would love nothing better than to send him on his way with a hat-trick of Championship titles. He has become as popular as a coach as his fellow Australian, and good mate, Darren Lehmann was as a player and that is an achievement indeed.

With three games remaining, Middlesex ahead by four points, and a potential winner-takes all finale between the two sides at Lord's, Yorkshire's minimal task is to match them over the next two games if that third title is to come to pass. Alex Lees sustained them during a tricky opening day against Durham with a season's best 132, passing 1000 first-class runs in the process. Yorkshire's 341 for 5 was a decent return in testing conditions against a Durham side that nevertheless looked over-reliant on its opening attack of Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth.

Lees' reputation as an England opener-in-waiting weakened during an unsuccessful 2015 so here was another innings that suggested his career is back on track, if with a disturbing tendency to jump the rails on occasions. He believes the experience has made his game tougher and given him "nuggets of information" that will help him through when the bad times return.

"Everybody has down times," he said, and to illustrate that fact he only had to look 22 yards away for the first half of the day as he shared an assertive second-wicket stand of 163 in 43 overs with Gary Ballance, one which scotched Durham's hopes of making use of favourable bowling conditions.

Lees finally fell driving a low full toss back to the offspinner Ryan Pringle. He retains his admirers, but as much as his wish to transfer pressure back to the bowlers is in keeping with the current crop of young openers, there have been too many ungainly moments, and rushes of blood, along the way to be mentioned in England despatches just yet. It is across the Pennines where England's attention now resides with strong indications that they are prepared to take a punt on the admirable Haseeb Hameed for the Test tours of Bangladesh and India.

Lees has only 81 fewer first-class runs, but he averages 43 as opposed to Hameed's 53 and whereas Hameed's defences seems to have been designed on principles drawn up by the North Korean border police, Lees can be a little bit too Green Channel for his own good. He played one headstrong wipe at Onions early in his innings that would have had Hameed consigning himself to a month's solitary confinement in self-admonishment.

That Lees is finishing the season strongly, however, asserts that here is a cricketer of strength of character. He was not yet 23 when he was awarded the Yorkshire captaincy in one-day cricket. Considering that tradition in the Broad Acres once had it that you were not old enough to be allowed a word in edgeways until you were at least 30, he has coped remarkably well. Imagine the pressure of explaining a fielding change to a member only to be told: "Speak when tha's spoken to lad."

That captaincy brought promise, but no trophy - or as they prefer to describe it in Yorkshire: "Two lots of the treble messed up so far." Under his leadership, Yorkshire suddenly discovered how to play Twenty20, got to Finals Day but lost in the semi-finals. A home semi-final over 50 overs provided another disappointment when Surrey outplayed them at Headingley in front of a lower crowd than expected. There were letters in the Yorkshire Post complaining their one-day cricket was still a mess, which suggests that many counties must be living in considerable depravity.

For Yorkshire to find consolation in a third successive Championship, they will have to manage without their England duo of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, who have been told to rest out the last three games in the Championship season. There were so many low-level grumbles around Headingley that one might have imagined the boilers were on the blink, but Root is a multi-format player with a bad back and, in particular, would benefit from a prolonged rest. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that there was an idealism in the grumbles because the commitment of Yorkshire - and others - to the Championship is keeping English cricket alive.

Root, if he needs rest, should also be allowed to skip England's one-day series in Bangladesh, although that decision would no doubt be influenced by politics as much as cricketing logic. With the tour surrounded by safety concerns, there will be a reluctance within the ECB to be accused of favouritism to certain players. The approved Yorkshire response to that, incidentally, would be to trust to cricketing logic and bugger what the rest of them think. England should follow that course.

It was a sultry morning, but Yorkshire lost only one wicket to the new ball, Adam Lyth fending Onions to Keaton Jennings at gully, before Lees and Ballance took the game by the scruff. Ballance's innings smacked of a game returning to good order ahead of the winter tour selections. It ended when he edged back to a length ball from Barry McCarthy and was caught at the wicket.

The wicketkeeper was Paul Collingwood, who was forced to deputise because of a dislocated finger suffered by Michael Richardson. Richardson has only recently relinquished the gloves in a successful attempt to regain his batting form, but he had to take them when Stuart Poynter reported ill. Is there an outside chance that Phil Mustard could yet be summoned back from a loan spell at Gloucestershire for an end-of-season hero's farewell? Some in Durham would love nothing better. As for Collingwood, it would be no surprise to learn that during the close season he has also been tasked with fixing the plumbing and painting the sightscreens.

When Andrew Gale was bowled around his legs by Onions, there was a possibility that Yorkshire, at 190 for 3, could fritter away a dominant position. But Lees wore his responsibilities maturely, taking an hour to negotiate the 90s, a phase of the game in which he did not get much strike. He flicked a long hop from Pringle to the square leg boards to secure his third Championship hundred of the season - his first at Headingley since he also took one off Durham two years ago - before Jake Lehmann, with a half-century in his first appearance on a ground graced so often by his father, helped him restore Yorkshire's superiority.