Northamptonshire 61 for 2 trail Yorkshire 158 (Hill 71) by 97 runs

George Hill has already had one brush with stardom, not that many will have cottoned on. He was an England sub fielder who carried out a replacement bat for Ben Stokes before he won the Ashes Test at Headingley in 2019 in one of the most inspirational innings in history. Many decades from now, if he has any sense of a good story, he will regale his grandchildren with talk of how he gently pushed the cricketing Excalibur towards Stokes and muttered: "Use this, chosen one."

Two years on, as Yorkshire are undermined by injuries and England calls, the opportunity has come for Hill, a former England Under-19, to build his own career. His latest chance has come not just a little sooner than he might have anticipated, but in a way he might not have imagined.

For the first time in senior cricket, Hill was charged with opening the batting. Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Will Fraine were injured; Dawid Malan absent for personal reasons. What's more, there was no sense that his own bat had magical powers.

But in only his fourth first-class game, and in a match where victory could be crucial for both these sides in gaining a top-two place, he responded with a career-best 71, averting disaster with pretty much 50% of the runs off the bat, as Northants rolled Yorkshire for 158.

And, more to the point, he did it on July 4. In the USA that might mean an Independence Day BBQ, but in county cricket this summer it was the day when batting was confidently expected to descend into madness - the day on which county batters briefly revisit Championship cricket after a month of solid T20.

On Friday night, Hill had made a minor T20 breakthrough that probably resonated more with him than anybody else. During a match-winning stand in the Roses match at Headingley, in which he played a secondary role to Harry Brook, he struck Lancashire's high-class quick, Saqib Mahmood, over long-on for six and banged the bat on the ground as if to say: "I can do this."

On Sunday morning, the mental switch from T20 to four-day had to be clicked, even more so on a day in which no other Yorkshire batter made more than 22. On a slow, used pitch, offering a little seam and turn, 158 was not a totally disastrous score, but Northants moved to 61 for 2 by the close in a manner that suggested it was considerably under par. Thanks to Hill, Yorkshire remain in touch.

Hill did have a moment of fortune when he was dropped at second slip by Gareth Berg, off Wayne Parnell, when 31. But he generally displayed an unflustered air and adapted to the opener's role as if it was made for him. He stands fairly still at the crease - no huge trigger movement back onto off stump that is so on trend.

"It's a bit of a relief to be honest," he said. "I've played a couple of games in the past and didn't really feel like I did a huge amount, so it's nice to contribute to the team. I thought, 'I haven't got a huge amount to lose'. I haven't really opened before, so I thought I would go out there, give it my all and dig in."

It will be interesting to discover whether it becomes a more long-term switch. It looked like a proper approach from a proper opener. A proper knock. What was proper once, of course, is not necessarily proper now. When Kohler-Cadmore, arguably more suited to the middle order, returns, Yorkshire will need to have a proper think.

Hill's first boundary - a calm pull of Tom Taylor - set the mood for his innings. The were deft moments, such as when he guided Berg's medium pace to the third man boundary, and brief nod to the expressive side of his game that T20 has encouraged when he skipped down the pitch to strike the left-arm spinner, Simon Kerrigan, for a straight six. Rob Keogh's offspin snared him, lbw, pushing forward, immediately after tea.

Yorkshire, second in Group Three, led Northants, a place behind, by 12 points at start of play, and with two sides qualifying for the top division in the final stages, and only two games remaining, this match could hardly be more vital. Yorkshire held off Northants by one run in early May and once again they are proving themselves redoubtable opponents.

Such is the importance of the fixture that Yorkshire have signed Sam Northeast, who has left Hampshire, on a short-term loan. It would be a shame if Northeast's county career dwindled away, at 31, amid the recognition that England will never come calling. His chance to appeal to new suitors, though, did not begin well when he made 3 from 19 balls before Tom Taylor had him caught at the wicket, belatedly trying to leave.

Not that others had much to boast about. Adam Lyth had fallen early, Ben Sanderson having him caught behind. Rain forced an early lunch before Yorkshire suffered self-inflicted wounds against the let-arm spin of Kerrigan, Gary Ballance failing with a slog sweep and Brook, the leading T20 run-maker in the country, falling off that pedestal when he flogged the same bowler to mid-on.

Dom Bess did get a decent ball from Berg which bounced a bit, and it may be Bess' offspin that is most likely to salvage a difficult position. At the close though, it was the Northants stand-in skipper, Ricardo Vasconcelos, 32 not out and possessor of a deserved county cap, who was much the happier.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps