David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
Yorkshire 206 and 43 for 3 lead Northamptonshire 234 (Zaib 55, Taylor 50) by 15 runs
Saif Zaib's progression from teenaged prodigy to proven county cricketer has been far from automatic, but the resolve he displayed against Yorkshire at Headingley will not only encourage Northants to believe that his breakthrough season is upon them but it might even contribute to one of the biggest shocks in the Championship season.
Northants should not be taken lightly - they were about to return to Division One before Covid-19 led to the introduction of a conference-style system - and they have an advantage with Yorkshire only 15 runs ahead and seven wickets remaining. Not for the first time this season, Yorkshire find themselves behind the game at the halfway point, but if the weather stays murky, any lead above 160 leaves them competitive, 200 gives them an even chance. The pitch is nibbling regularly and there is some swing to be had.
Zaib was the wonderkid who became the first 15-year-old cricketer to represent Northants, and won a three-year contract in the process, but seven years on that has been trimmed to a one-year extension. Averaging under 20 with the bat in all three formats, and with only 24 county wickets to his name, he is now under obvious pressure to prove his mettle.
Northants are pushing Yorkshire all the way at Headingley, taking a 28-run first innings lead, and that owed much to Zaib's discriminating half-century, an exercise in self-denial which brought him 55 from 133 balls, and enabled him to join Tom Taylor, another sturdy half-century maker, in stemming a morning collapse.
Yorkshire lost their first five for 80 on the first day; Northants five for 81. Headingley, grey and overcast, remained in grouchy mood with seam bowlers queueing up to take advantage. Only Duanne Olivier did not possess a constant threat.
Zaib, left-handed and stocky, met all-comers with respect. He must have feared the worst on 14 when Jordan Thompson's lbw appeal was turned down, found momentum with two square drives against Harry Brook's support medium pace just before lunch, and then took successive boundaries off Steve Patterson in an afternoon when Yorkshire's captain, who must value bowling days like this more with every passing year, must have handed the ball over with some regret.
"His statistics do not do him justice," is the sort of comment heard about Zaib. With only his fourth first-class 50 duly logged, he reminded everyone why. David Willey, Yorkshire's left-armer, was a former county colleague, and perhaps he remembered how to entice a press on the self-destruct button as Zaib drove on the up and heard his middle stump dislodge behind him. It was a headstrong finish to a responsible innings.
Taylor's runs were equally important for Northants, if not quite as career-defining, and his half-century, not quite as secure, was of similar character, ending when he played inside a delivery from Dom Bess to become the offspinner's first Headingley wicket. Their stand of 92 in 41 overs, gradually picked up pace, but never lost its air of caution.
That was necessary after a fine Yorkshire morning which brought five wickets, all of them caught at slip, the best delivery arguably Patterson's, from around the wicket, to end Ricardo Vasconcelos' impressive 47, the best catch assuredly Brook's one-handed plunge to his right at third slip as Thompson found Luke Procter's edge.
Yorkshire's 20 overs late in the day - play dragged on until beyond 7pm - were as problematic as had been anticipated, most distressingly so for Tom Kohler-Cadmore, who had responded to his first-innings dismissal by asserting that he fully believed that opening the batting was the best place for him, and that the bad shots that were getting him out could happen anywhere in the order.
Sadly for Kohler-Cadmore, 24 hours later all he had to show for his affirmation was an 11-ball duck - and an understandable sense of grievance. Ben Sanderson - "Sheffield-born Ben Sanderson" to Yorkshire folk whenever he takes wickets against them - is quite a handful in such conditions, and he had already beaten Kohler-Cadmore on both sides of the bat, but when runs are in short supply to be adjudged caught at the wicket off your hip is the last thing you need.