Yorkshire 270 for 5 (Lyth 111, Bairstow 107*) v Hampshire Scorecard
Anticipation of Yorkshire's quest for a third successive Championship title has sustained many in the Broad Acres during a long, wet winter. That winter might not be quite over in the north even now - it is one thing to have the title celebrations on ice, but having the outfield on ice before start of play was going a little too far - but the season is underway, albeit with a bit of a scrunch underfoot, and thanks to outstanding hundreds for Adam Lyth and Jonny Bairstow it began for Yorkshire in most satisfying fashion.
Twenty-one overs were cut from the day because of bad light, but Yorkshire's close at 270 for 5 put them within range of a dominant position and, judging by the way that Bairstow went about his unbeaten 107, Hampshire will be desperate to see the back of him first thing on Monday. They had a good morning but were eventually worn down by two excellent batting displays, Lyth's finally coming to a close after tea when Sean Ervine swung one back to win an lbw decision.
Lyth and Bairstow have both won England honours during Yorkshire's back-to-back Championships, but while Bairstow's involvement this summer is assured - his critics browbeaten by sheer weight of runs - Lyth is still convalescing after an uncomfortable debut summer for England in which a maiden Test hundred against New Zealand in front of his home crowd was followed by a thin Ashes series as he struggled to find a tempo in Test cricket and at the end of the summer became the latest opening batsman to walk out through England's revolving door.
That revolving door is even casting covetous eyes on the England captain. Alastair Cook's authority and selection is cast in stone and for a good while yet he will walk through the alternative entrance marked VIPs only, but he is so disgruntled with the new ECB-approved helmet that he makes wearing it sound as if he is peering through prison bars: do not be surprised if he takes the field at Lord's for a first Test against Sri Lanka wearing a scowl and black-hooped convict fancy dress.
As for Alex Hales, by no means secure as his Test partner, he has opted for a holiday, believing (perhaps wisely) that a rest cure can propel him into the first Test. Nick Compton, a No. 3 who could potentially move up to opener, began at Lord's with a first-baller.
A sense of a fresh opportunity would not have been lost on Lyth from the moment that Hampshire asserted their right, as the away side, to skip the toss and bowl first on a chill but sunny morning. In April, this far north, that is no surprise. Andrew Gale, proud Yorkshireman that he is, was at least able to take consolation from the fact that he could leave his money in his pocket.
Gale would be less enamoured by his 12-ball duck, a leg-side strangle against Ryan McLaren, and with Alex Lees edging James Tomlinson to third slip and Gary Ballance feathering an inside edge to the keeper when he failed to leave a ball from Chris Wood, Yorkshire's first 20 overs had brought them 41 for 3. To make matters worse, Lancashire had a bonus bowling point and as one Red Rose loyalist pointed out were above them in the table.
Lyth should have fallen, too, on 14, Fidel Edwards moving naturally enough in his follow-through towards a checked drive, but failing to hold it. That apart, Lyth left judiciously - something not evident in the Ashes series - and drove crisply through the off side.
Bairstow's arrival spread enterprise into Yorkshire's morning from the outset, Lyth caught the mood and a fourth-wicket stand of 205 in 44 overs swung the match in their favour. For Bairstow it was the old routine, following five first-class hundreds last season and his accolade as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year; for Lyth, it was his first since 2014, a summer which also won him Wisden's approval.
McLaren's six overs in the morning went for six runs; four immediately after lunch disappeared for 41. Bairstow's hundred was brought up with one of his few false shots, a top-edged hook over the wicketkeeper which left the bowler, Edwards, wicketless and expensive, with hands on knees in mid-pitch.
"It was quite tricky early on," Lyth said. "I was finding it tough out there. But when Jonny comes in, the scoreboard keeps on rolling and that helps me as well."
James Whitaker, the national selector, cannot fail to have been impressed with both batsmen. Lyth, who was initially unaware that Whitaker was in residence, had been more concerned with impressing his father Alistair. Whether he met his dad's standards as well is not known.
"It can't do me any harm to get a hundred in front of him," said Lyth, by now referring to Whitaker rather than his father. "I had the winter to get the Ashes off my shoulders. It's normal business now. All I can do is keep churning the hundreds out. I left the ball a bit better than I did in the Ashes, but then that was against Australia."
And so this potentially historic season cast its first-day favours on Yorkshire, although not entirely. One impressive aspect of this Yorkshire squad is its ability to be driven by history, not weighed down by it. The chance to emulate the 1966-68 side is one that excites them and the respect is mutual - the county's president, John Hampshire, a member of the team in the 60s, has suggested that his old side might still have the edge, but only because he chose to imagine that the game would be played on uncovered wickets. In Yorkshire, that is quite a concession.