Yorkshire 199 and 103 for 3 (Malan 50*) need another 68 to beat Durham 103 and 266 (Lees 106, Bedingham 77, Fisher 4-54)
Sometimes the incomparable game reaches back into its rich past even as it charms us with its dynamic present. Should the forecast be correct this match may yet be curtailed by the weather. Yorkshire need 68 runs to win, Durham require seven wickets, yet the threat of rain means any result is possible in a contest that has recalled treasured dynasties.
Cricket, you see, has its simple lists and its honourable lineages. Bowling fast and opening the batting for Yorkshire are among the latter. Bill Bowes, Fred Trueman and Darren Gough are just three of those who have taken the new ball for the White Rose while Herbert Sutcliffe, Leonard Hutton and Geoffrey Boycott all opened their county's innings. All six cricketers performed their skills with much honour for England on very many occasions. And there were seasons when Halifax-born batsman Alex Lees seemed destined to follow in their line. For had not those mighty prophets Boycott and Bird assured us it would be so?
Such years have now been consigned to the Elder Days. Lees left Yorkshire nearly two years ago, having fallen out of favour with the club's management. There were even days when it seemed he didn't much like the game itself. So neutrals were pleased to see him make a success of his move to Durham while Yorkshire supporters could be reassured that since his new team was in the second division there was little immediate chance of him playing against their county in proper cricket.
That, though, was before Covid-19 and the inception of the Bob Willis Trophy. No one foresaw that Lees might do anything so dastardly as to make a century against Yorkshire, something he accomplished early on this third afternoon at the Riverside when he nudged Harry Brook backward of square for two runs on the off side. It was his 16th first-class hundred, a dozen of which have been scored for the county of his birth.
So maybe it was thought fitting that Lees' innings should be ended - and the match changed utterly - by York's Matthew Fisher, who still has a career bubbling with promise despite the injuries that have haunted him in recent seasons. When Fisher took the new ball ten overs after lunch Durham were 215 for 3 and were digging themselves out of trouble. Their 96-run first-innings deficit had been cleared and Lees was unbeaten on exactly 100.
Immediately, though, Fisher achieved prodigious swing, even on a warm afternoon unthreatened by cloud. Lees thin-edged his first ball to fine leg for four and had collected two more runs before the sixth delivery swung in, brushed his pad and sent the off stump sprawling.
Fisher was merely warming to his task. Four overs later he produced what may be seen as one of the balls of the season: a ferocious inswinging yorker which not only removed Jack Burnham's middle and leg stump but even succeeded in knocking the hapless batsman off his feet as he sought to play or avoid it. Two balls later Durham's newly appointed skipper, Ned Eckersley, played sloppily across the line and was leg before. In the next over Paul Coughlin departed in similar fashion although not as culpably. Fisher had taken four wickets in 19 balls.
Durham's batsmen were allowed no respite. Jordan Thompson, a Loiner, replaced Fisher at the Finchale End and immediately dismissed both Ben Raine and Matthew Potts, who might have fared just as well had they been batting with a stick of tusky. Chris Rushworth joined Gareth Harte and the pair added 27 with a mixture of useful thumps and alert running. Durham's lead was 170 when Steve Patterson completed the collapse by trapping Rushworth leg before. Less than two hours earlier he had begun it when he removed David Bedingham in like fashion for 77 four overs before the new ball became available. That wicket brought to an end the South African's 136-run stand with Lees; more significantly it began a tumble that saw Durham lose their last eight wickets for 59 runs, and 6 for 18 before the last-wicket merriment.
Yorkshire now needed 171 to win but fortunately we had an interval before the game's final innings began. Dishes of tea were taken and chatty reports about the arrival of the soon-to-be ermined Lord Botham of Somewhere-or-Other were discarded. Wits were gathered and then immediately puréed as Rushworth rumbled in from the Lumley End and had both Adam Lyth and Will Fraine leg before in the first five overs of Yorkshire's innings. At that point supporters of the away team watching events on the live stream may have decided that something stronger than tea was required.
Dawid Malan and Tom Kohler-Cadmore calmed matters with a stand of 52 but Rushworth switched to the Finchale End and Kohler-Cadmore became the 14th batsman in this match to fall leg before. He was on his front foot but Graham Lloyd's decision looked fair enough. That was Rushworth's 500th first-class wicket in a fine career and his team-mates gave him a round of applause which was rather more enthusiastic than the one Lees had been afforded by his former colleagues. That was understandable enough, of course, although Patterson, a decent fellow at the worst of times, patted the opener on the back when he was out. Come to think of it, Yorkshire's other cricketers may simply have been rubbing sanitiser into their hands.
Durham pressed for further wickets in the soft evening sunlight and Malan was dropped on by Sean Dickson at first slip off Ben Raine when he was on 32 when Yorkshire needed a further 96. We then wondered if eight overs might be added to the day's allocation but the umpires decided we had seen enough. Malan will resume on 50 after reaching his first half-century for Yorkshire in the final over of the day. His only contribution to the third morning had been to negotiate an obstacle course and retrieve the ball from a stand into which it had been hit by Bedingham. One imagines the former Middlesex batsman rarely had to perform such vulgar tasks when he worked at Lord's but he may have something more useful to do on the fourth morning of this fine match.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications