Leeds, April 06 - 09, 2023, County Championship Division Two
517 & 286/8d
(T:389) 415 & 392/7

Leics won by 3 wickets


Rehan Ahmed survives Yorkshire's run-glut as Leicestershire face familiar fight

Dawid Malan century keeps hosts on front foot in first outing after bleak winter

David Hopps
David Hopps
Rehan Ahmed's previous first-class appearance was also his Test debut in Karachi  •  Getty Images

Rehan Ahmed's previous first-class appearance was also his Test debut in Karachi  •  Getty Images

Leicestershire 201 for 5 (Ackermann 67, Handscomb 62*) trail Yorkshire 517 (Malan 132, Bean 118, Milnes 75) by 316 runs
An elderly Headingley cricket historian observing Rehan Ahmed's attempts to build on his achievement as England's youngest Test cricketer might just have recalled the experience of one of Yorkshire's most famous sons, Brian Close, the man who until last winter held that claim to fame for 70 years and more, and reflected that no matter how great Rehan's talent, building on his breakthrough won't necessarily be all plain sailing.
It is one thing for rich potential to be recognised by an England leadership team with gamblers' instincts - debuts granted in all three international formats by the age of 18, including five wickets in a Test debut in Karachi, which unsurprisingly brought the happy pronouncement that it was the best day of his life.
But it's another challenge entirely to build the foundations on pitches in an English spring to support a reputation already granted. Leicestershire's ingenu has begun that task over the past two days at Headingley and, if the pitch was still slow and the breeze still chilly, at least this time there was sun to provide some encouragement.
Rehan collected three for 89 in 15 overs which was a bit of an escape considering that Yorkshire racked up 517 at more than five an over. His first over, on the previous day, had gone for 22, including a shoulder-high full toss, and his start to the second day was not much better, 15 conceded this time as the nightwatchman, Matt Milnes, collected three boundaries on his way to 75 from 105 balls. Milnes made room to good effect and played him comfortably, his innings ending lbw during Michael Finan's unpredictable spell with the second new ball.
The ghost of Closey might well have popped up when Rehan's satisfaction was at its lowest, jabbing him meaningfully in the chest, and telling him to pull himself together. There would have been no need to be offended if he had because he told everybody that. Close made his own debut at 18 against New Zealand in 1949, his National Service delayed for the privilege, and went on to do the Double that season of 1,000 first-class runs and 100 wickets, but even though he became one of the most loved players in Yorkshire's history, and skippered England 17 years after that Test debut, his international career always spluttered along, his immense talent too often betrayed by a wandering mind.
If there is any point in this comparison across the ages, it is to remark that it is unfair to expect too much from someone acclaimed so young. Reputation can hang heavily, even for a player who is widely praised by those in the know for his quiet maturity and level-headedness, an accolade rarely enjoyed by Close. Rehan is still a teenaged professional learning his trade - that Karachi Test debut was only his fourth first-class match and he still has only 19 first-class wickets.
He took three good ones here. When Dawid Malan reverse-swept a full toss to extend his overnight 91 to 132, extending a remarkable if only occasional run-scoring record on this ground, Rehan was beginning to look tentative. But two balls later, Malan plonked one to long off. From the bowler, there was not the merest hint of relief or celebration. He just rubbed his nose and accepted a high-five that he didn't have much heart for.
His second wicket was cleverer, quicker and wider to set up a stumping for Peter Handscomb as George Hill advanced down the pitch; a token half-raise of his arm to mark this one. By the time he bowled Dom Bess (49 from 43 balls) to wrap up Yorkshire's innings, he was happier in his work. A stocky 5ft 9ins, he reputedly bowls a little quicker than Adil Rashid, hunting the stumps, and there was air of the hunter in this dismissal, a quicker ball that beat Bess on the pull and caused Rehan to punch his palm in satisfaction. It completed the sense of a bowler who even so early in his career appears to have the wherewithal more often than not to survive the tough days.
There will be more challenges like this over the summer, often fought out when scrutiny is conspicuous by its absence. That will bring its own test. By his own admission, until he shared in the joy of the Karachi Test win, he used to see the longer formats as "a boring game". He has serious pretensions as an all-rounder and while he commits himself to his first full county season, he is likely to be giving more of an eye to events in the IPL.
Leicestershire acquitted themselves well in response to Yorkshire's 517. Sol Budinger looked more like Sol Budweiser - two beers for the price of one - as he attempted a series of intoxicating hacks at Milnes, four boundaries within six balls, none of them convincing, before he sliced an attempted leg-side hit to mid off.
The new ball brought two more breakthroughs. Lewis Hill edged Ben Coad to slip, pushing warily forward, and Jordan Thompson rescued a good return catch, diving forward, to account for Ryan Patel.
But this is a sedate surface, offering little lateral movement for the first week of April and Handscomb and Colin Ackermann played with poise in an fourth-wicket stand of 121. Even the sight of Bess' new-look platinum hairstyle could not unnerve them. The crowd settled back, arms folded, huddled in winter coats, looking in the Rugby Stand like flies on a white wall, not quite as short-sighted as your average fly, to be fair, but probably a good deal easier to swat.
It was the first little test of how Yorkshire's dressing-room spirit and common sense has survived the winter's ructions. Quite well, on this evidence, as Milnes, acquired from Kent, had the satisfaction of two late wickets with Ackermann patting a return catch and Wiaan Mulder edging behind. The announcement, too, that Pakistan opener Saud Shakeel finally has his visa - and a four-match deal - emphasised that their ambition is an immediate return to the First Division, potential points penalties or not.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

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County Championship Division Two