Yorkshire 181 and 5 for 0 trail Hampshire 235 (Fuller 54*, Northeast 50, Coad 4-41) by 49 runs
The best games of cricket are strewn with the evitable. Annihilations by teams untouched by fallibility rarely make good watching. Seldom, though, does a game pivot quite as sharply as this contest just before lunchtime when Hampshire's methodical pursuit of Yorkshire's first-innings total of 181 was thrown awry by two dismissals the nature of which was completely out of character with the cricket that had preceded them.
By close of play, which was delayed by a long rain-break in mid-afternoon, Sam Northeast's fifth fifty in eight Championship innings and James Fuller's canny 54 not out had served to blur the memory of the morning's play; this is exactly the sort of match critics mean when they complain about cricket's complexity. But the counterfactuals exercised an unusual fascination and some pondered what the game might have looked like had Ajinkya Rahane not lost his wicket and Rilee Rossouw his marbles.
We are being too harsh, perhaps. Nevertheless, a session which had followed an enthralling if predictable course suddenly veered into eccentricity half an hour before lunch. It began at 12.40 when Steve Patterson brought Dom Bess into the attack. Hampshire were 80 for 2 and had lost only Joe Weatherley, brilliantly caught at slip by a leaping Adam Lyth for 14. Then, as if goaded by the introduction of spin, Rahane came down the wicket to Bess and was clumsily stumped by a fumbling Jonny Tattersall for 31. Rahane's thinking was relatively clear: rather in the fashion of many Indian batsmen, he was unwilling to let a spinner settle. Nevertheless, the dismissal still seemed something of a waste.
But such rational analysis was not possible with Rossouw's demise, albeit his innings began in relatively conventional fashion with a single off Bess. David Willey then bowled the next over. Rossouw drove his first ball through point before whacking the fifth over mid-off for a huge six. Then as if intent on disproving the schoolmaster's maxim that you can't hit every ball to the boundary, Rossouw tried to pull the next ball but only skied it miles into the air off the top edge. The chance was well taken by Tom Kohler-Cadmore at slip as other close fielders and wicketkeeper scattered.
"Who knows the secret of the Black Magic box?" asked a rather sultry voice in a chocolates advertisement in the 1970s. Alternatively, spectators at Headingley this morning might have been wondering what goes on in batsmen's heads when they are going about their work.
The dismissals of Rahane and Rossouw left Yorkshire with the advantage from the morning's play. That ascendancy was strengthened shortly after lunch when Tom Alsop was snaffled at slip by Lyth off Duanne Olivier and Northeast was leg before for 50 when shaping to playing Ben Coad across the line. Northeast is making the business of batsmanship look rather simple at the moment; one wonders what is going on inside a cricketer's head at those times, too.
But Hampshire are made of resolute stuff this season. Their new coach, Adi Birrell, is challenging every member of his squad to contribute before the start of every day's play, so perhaps it was appropriate that the player who answered the call this afternoon would not have been in the XI had Kyle Abbott not strained a calf in Saturday's Royal London Cup final.
Fuller is a shrewd batsman who clearly knows the shots he can play. His half-century included three sixes, one of them carved over third man and the other two hit straight. More significantly from Birrell's perspective, he helped Ian Holland add 37 runs for the seventh wicket and Keith Barker put on 27 for the eighth, stands which saw Hampshire take a first-innings lead. (Holland and Barker's contributions also meant that ten batsmen have reached double figures in this match without making 20.) Mason Crane and even the last man, Fidel Edwards, also did their bits although both were bowled by Coad when play resumed after a long break for rain.
The Yorkshire openers survived three overs before close of play which arrived at nearly seven o'clock after one of those days when the early overs of the morning seemed distant indeed. Yet it would be a shame if anyone forgot the astonishing athleticism of Lyth who leapt backwards from second slip to complete a one-handed catch after the ball had looped up off Weatherley's bat and shoulder. Those were clearly the deflections identified by Rob Bailey; Weatherley's downcast look and his slow amble back to the pavilion suggested he thought no bat had been involved.
The old sweats will say that if Hampshire's opener is in doubt as to what happened, he need only look in the scorebook. But sweats of whatever vintage will recall Lyth's catch deep into the winter; and they may also look forward to the next act of a drama whose outcome remains quite uncertain. This may indeed be the type of game critics identify when complaining about cricket's complexity. But it is also the sort of contest which enthrals the rest of us.