Keaton Jennings, Alex Davies rise above Roses anxieties to deliver big-match performance
Steve Patterson's decision at the toss leads to long day in the field for the home side
Lancashire 273 for 2 (Jennings 132, Davies 84) vs Yorkshire
Nothing upstages a Roses match. Ask a good few Yorkshiremen of more mature years where they were on the afternoon when England won the World Cup in 1966 and they will inform you they were in enemy territory watching their side make 50 for 3 against Lancashire at Old Trafford. "It bloody rained," they might add, "but then it's Manchester." They might omit to tell you that one of the dismissed batsmen was G Boycott (c Worsley b Lever 0) although they will probably include in their recollection the fact that Yorkshire won the match by 12 runs, Ray Illingworth taking 5 for 33.
Now, though, it is the vivid present and on a cloudy Leeds afternoon Steve Patterson is trying to make the breakthrough his team desperately need. Brian Close led Yorkshire to the first of a hat-trick of Championships 55 years ago and winning the title would not mean a scruple less to Patterson than it did to the "old bald blighter", as Alan Gibson called him. But things are not going well. Having decided just before the toss to bowl instead of bat - his decision was apparently prompted by the overhead conditions rather than James Anderson's presence in Lancashire's team - Patterson is watching Alex Davies and Keaton Jennings share a stand of 163 for the first wicket. The ground is heavy with incipience and for many Yorkshire supporters it takes the form of anxiety as they worry whether this will be the first season since 2011 in which their side will lose both Roses games. Then Jordan Thompson, who is rapidly becoming a White Rose standard-bearer, brings one back off the seam to Davies, who is lbw for a fine 84. "Maybe this changes things," think the crowd. "Maybe."
Or maybe not. Yorkshire took only one more wicket on this opening day of the game. The triumph was claimed by Thompson who accepted a chipped return catch off Jennings but by then the opener had become the 13th Lancashire batsman to score two first-class centuries against Yorkshire in the same season and had joined a list that includes Archie MacLaren, Cyril Washbrook and Mike Atherton. But let us resist the lure of the past. Jennings' 132 had included four fours in seven deliveries from Dom Leech, whose short spell with the second new ball was something of a punishment. The Lancashire opener hit 15 fours and a six in his 335-minute innings, almost every one of the boundaries being scored on the off side in the mighty segment than stretches from third man to straight down the ground. By the close Lancashire were 273 for 2 and the decision to bowl looked like a foolish impulse. Lancashire would have batted although it was a close call. The verdict of hindsight is one of the travails of captaincy. Patterson probably knows it. So did Close, not that he would ever admit so much.
But this was also a fine day for Davies, a player who 'gets' professional county cricket and has done so from his first day in the job. Davies made his debut, two days short of his 17th birthday, almost a decade ago in a 40-over match against Glamorgan at Colwyn Bay. He conceded no byes as the home side piled up 328 for 4; in addition he chivvied his bowlers to greater effort at every opportunity. Standing next to him at slip, the 25-year-old Tom Smith enquired as the debutant's age and suddenly felt rather ancient.
Davies's initials are A L and so it has been "Al" since his first few weeks in Lancashire's dressing room, a place in which he belonged almost at once. He is the combative bantam-weight at Emirates Old Trafford; he bats like a man unvisited by regrets and on days like this he has nothing to repent. Davies' punched cover-drives and thumps through midwicket proclaimed his simple philosophy of life quite as eloquently as anything he might say, not that he is reluctant to express opinions on the game. Before the last Roses match he said that Yorkshire "are not the team they used to be" and he will have no doubt regarded Lancashire's innings victory in May as a thumping vindication of his judgement. Now, with his side in the seven and six seats once again, Davies is no doubt savouring the possibility of inflicting another hammering on Yorkshire.
It is close of play and nearly eight hours since Patterson won his ninth toss in ten Championship games this season. In the first hour of play Yorkshire's new-ball pairing, Ben Coad and Leech were a trifle unlucky, details that may appear in a coach's notebook but not in the scorecards that will still be studied when another 55 years have passed. Let us hope they are studied anyway. For the moment there is only this moment. Chants can already be heard coming from The Headingley Taps and not even Emmott Robinson would fool himself they concern cricket. The air is thick with the unfenced emotional intensity of another sport.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications