David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
Nottinghamshire 296 (Clarke 109, Evison 58) and 42 for 1 require a further 132 runs to beat Yorkshire 73 (Evison 4-13, Fletcher 3-31) and 396 (Lyth 153)
"I wouldn't be here playing four-day cricket if I didn't want to play Test cricket again," said Dawid Malan back in June. "I still feel like I've got a hell of a lot to give".
Malan's ambition as he approached his 34th birthday had to be applauded - and he got his wish as he returned to the Test side soon afterwards. But what does that say about the County Championship, 2021-style, if some of the best players would not even be there if they were not wishing to be somewhere else? And Malan is not alone. It is just that not everybody states it so baldly. For lovers of the Championship, these are worrying times.
More pertinently, what does that say about a player like Adam Lyth, who is a year younger than Malan but who must know deep down that his England days have gone? Lyth still attracts honourable mentions from time to time - such has been the state of England's top order, how could it be otherwise - but they have arisen more from a journalist's desperation for a time-honoured intro than any real possibility that he adds to his six Tests after an absence of six years.
Somewhere between Malan, who had only been with Yorkshire for three months when he tacitly dismissed the intrinsic worth of the Championship, and troupers like Darren Stevens, who is playing deep into his 40s and who will feel bereft the day it all comes to an end, is Lyth. County cricket alone must now sustain him.
It took him until his last innings to address a wretched season. He had last made a Championship fifty in April and his recent run of scores looked like a couple of credit-card PINs. He would have been dropped for the final Championship match of the season if Gary Ballance had not announced himself too ill to take part on the first morning. The decision by Yorkshire's coach, Andrew Gale, would have been a reluctant one, arguably a belated one, because nobody rates Lyth more highly. Famously, he once suggested he had more natural talent than Joe Root.
What followed was a reaffirmation of his talent. Lyth only made four (from a laboured 27 balls) in the first innings as Yorkshire were bundled out for 73, following scores of 108 and 117 against Warwickshire the previous week. Much will be made of how Yorkshire showed resilience the second time around in making 396 - and they did, even if batting conditions had eased. But it was Lyth who found that durability, Lyth who looked into himself and presumably knew he still cared, as he responded with 153 in nearly eight-and-a-half hours at the crease. It certainly made a change from eight-and-a-half minutes.
That innings means that Nottinghamshire are unlikely to secure victory, if victory it is, until after lunch on the final day. They need 174 and they finished the third day stable enough at 42 for 1. The pitch has slowed and there is minimal chance of turn. Yorkshire need the ball to swing but overcast skies could arrive too late.
Nottinghamshire can qualify for next week's Bob Willis Trophy between the top two if they beat Yorkshire - as long as Warwickshire don't beat Somerset at Edgbaston. But just for a minute, around 5pm, and against all expectations, they appeared to have a chance of winning the Championship. Lancashire needed two to beat Hampshire at Aigburth with the last pair at the crease and a tie would have let Notts back in the race. Then Dane Vilas swept a winning boundary and the excitement vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
By then, Lyth was in his customary place at second slip, weary and satisfied. He began the day with 73 to his name and continued in the same unobtrusive, controlled fashion, reining his game back to the basics. Before he settled, he edged Luke Fletcher uncertainly wide of the slip cordon, but his 27th first-class century was secured with impeccable timing just before the second new ball as he glided Steven Mullaney through point.
That second new ball was a non-event and it was into its 12th over before Harry Brook, who had driven Fletcher for four boundaries in an over as the ball failed to swing, nibbled at one from Dane Paterson to fall for 43. Thompson later edged a fine offcutter from Mullaney to second slip. Patterson bowled with commendable economy, but it was Brett Hutton who fulfilled the workhorse role, sending down 34 overs and deserving a couple of late lbws by virtue of perseverance alone as Yorkshire kept Notts in the field for 142.2 overs.
Lyth played and missed at Fletcher, on the walk, in the last over before lunch and Joey Evison fancied he might get an lbw decision on 120, his race-down-the-pitch appeal straight from the Stuart Broad school. It was Evison who finally ended Lyth's stalwart and high-class innings when his challenging line found the outside edge.
As Yorkshire struggle to emerge from a transitional stage to become real Championship contenders - with a lack of first-innings runs their most glaring weakness - they still need Lyth. What's more they will feel doubly confident that he needs them and that will bring general delight because he has become the very stuff of Yorkshire cricket. Were he ever to feel that Championship cricket was not a life worth living, we might as well all give up. He has embraced county cricket for 15 years and. although he is not one for great speeches, he has emotionally lived every minute. He has some way to go before becoming Yorkshire's Trescothick, but many who have watched him over the years will hope it can satisfy him for a good while yet.
As for the Championship, the global alternatives on offer insist that it must re-evaluate or ultimately pay the price. To value its past is not to safeguard its future. It must produce England players, but it must be loved for itself. Quality must be put ahead of quantity. The appeal of white-ball specialism is growing. For all those who play it, whether they possess England ambitions or not, it must be a pleasure not a grind.