Gary Ballance, Joe Root raise Yorkshire's hopes against Kent
Before pair's 83-run third-wicket stand, little had gone well for the home side
Yorkshire 240 for 5 (Ballance 91*, Brook 59) trail Kent 305 (Crawley 90, Coad 3-53) by 65 runs
"Thank you for having me on the programme," said Joe Root to Kevin Howells when he was a guest on this week's outstanding Test Match Special podcast. There was nothing false about the courtesy. What one or two other players might have regarded as an inconvenience, the captain of England viewed as a privilege. Root followed his gratitude with a series of engaging admissions about himself - "I'm a cricket tragic" - and how he viewed county cricket: "It's the bedrock of our game."
As to why he still played four-day cricket for Yorkshire, Root offered the simplest of explanations: "It's an opportunity to go back and try to help." That assistance has no doubt taken many forms over the four games Root has played since the season began. On the highest level, perhaps, there is his unspoken example to the younger players in Yorkshire's dressing room; on another, there is his practical advice to his colleagues; but also useful have been his runs, principally the century in the victory at Canterbury and then a more modest 41 today.
Those runs were made during an 83-run third-wicket stand with Gary Ballance that was pivotal in our day's cricket. Before Root and Ballance came together little had gone well for Yorkshire, most notably when Kent's tailenders were clubbing 81 runs during the morning. Thereafter, Root's dismissal was the only serious blemish until both Harry Brook and Jonny Tattersall fell in the final six overs of the day. Brook at least had the consolation of having made a fine 59 before he was pinned by a ball from Nathan Gilchrist that kept low. Tattersall, unprotected by a nightwatchman, edged Joe Denly's legspinner to Ollie Robinson. Ballance, though, having marked his recovery from concussion by making a vital 74 at Hove, ended the day nine runs short of what would be his first century since July 2019. And some of his strokes recalled his best afternoons with England.
Despite their healthy position at the top of the Group 3 table Yorkshire needed a strong and confident display from their top-order batsmen. Three wins in four games might suggest prosperity but Yorkshire supporters watching matches on the live stream know their favourites have always had a collapse in them. Perhaps we should distinguish between exceptional circumstance and habitual opinion here. The same people - or their parents - have been saying much the same thing since Geoffrey Boycott packed in. The only particular feature about this season is that the most devout supporters in the land haven't been allowed to watch games from stands where they could agree gloomily with their neighbours that this lot weren't as good as that lot, although, mind you, that lot weren't up to much either. This is the county where winning a title is merely a necessary prologue to winning two more. Joe Root knows that, too.
The hard evidence buttresses the supporters' misgivings: 79 for 4 and 47 for 3 against Glamorgan, 150 all out against Sussex, 80 for 5 and 86 for 6 against Northamptonshire combine to suggest that Yorkshire's established batting has possessed the solidity of choux pastry. That was why Ballance and Root's partnership was crucial in this day's cricket. Replying to Kent's not-so-dusty 305, the home side had already lost their openers with 48 runs on the board when Root arrived in the middle and almost immediately the terms of the contest changed. Root was quickly into his work, first by back-cutting Miguel Cummins towards the old pavilion for boundaries and then by tucking Marcus O'Riordan off his hip and scampering madly for two runs, as though they were the first of his life. Ballance was similarly fluent, whipping a Miguel Cummins no-ball over square leg for six before cover-driving the next delivery, also an illegal effort, through the covers.
Yorkshire got to tea on 127 for 2 and a few incautious supporters settled down for some trouble-free viewing. They were punished for their complacency when Root tried to tuck Matt Quinn to fine leg but merely felt the ball flick his bat on its way to Robinson. The England captain did not wait for Richard Kettleborough's decision. Instead he dragged himself off Headingley with his work incomplete. He was probably chiefly disappointed because he knew Yorkshire needed more runs from him but also because he couldn't play cricket any more. In many ways the captain of England retains the simplicity of a child. Let us hope he never loses it. "Joe's different gravy," a member of Yorkshire's communications staff told Kevin Howells for TMS. Quite.
The remainder of the day's play had the slightest sense of unreality about it. Anyone connected with cricket knows better than to plan their lives around a weather forecast but the suggestions about tomorrow are gloomy almost beyond argument. That makes it most unlikely that either side will win this game and Sunday's cricket will become a tussle for bonus points. But it was still good to see 22-year-old Brook continue his cricketing education in glorious evening sunshine and Ballance warm even more keenly to his work with a baker's dozen of boundaries, six of them through the covers, a favourite area
"It's where you learn the game," said Root when asked by Howells about the importance of county cricket. Well yes, of course, and it might be equally pleasant to hear someone from the ECB acknowledge the value of having 18 counties where young cricketers can gain such practical experience. Fine young seamers like Kent's Gilchrist might testify to the importance of such opportunities but so would 31-year-old Ballance, who is on the verge of his 41st century and is still learning.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications