Yorkshire v Worcestershire: Victory far from formality for Yorkshire as they increase gap at the top
PERHAPS we should start with a few statistics.
This was Yorkshire’s fifth successive County Championship victory – the first time they have won five on the spin since 1999.
They have lost only three of their last 60 Championship games.
They are the only unbeaten team in the Championship this summer.
They are 34 points clear at the top of Division One.
They have a match in hand on all their rivals.
One could go on, but you get the drift.
Yorkshire, in a nutshell, are the best in the country.
To achieve that fifth straight victory yesterday, secured by seven wickets with a session-and-a-half to spare, Yorkshire had to beat two opponents – Worcestershire and the weather.
Neither was a formality.
Worcestershire, in this game, belied their lowly status to the extent that they could well steer clear of relegation trouble, while the battleship-grey skies that clung to North Marine Road constantly threatened to spoil the party.
As it turned out, the forecast heavy stuff never materialised, and only a few spits and spots descended from above. It was not enough to drive the players from the field, and the game reached a natural conclusion at 2.55pm.
Worcestershire, 221-6 in their second innings when play began, a lead of 71, lifted their score to 306 to leave Yorkshire 157 for victory.
The hosts slipped to 44-3 before Jonny Bairstow – who else? –and Alex Lees steered them home in a rollocking stand of 113 in 18 overs, Bairstow celebrating his call-up for the third Ashes Test with 74 from 51 balls with nine fours and three sixes, and Lees striking 58 from 87 deliveries with seven fours and two sixes.
It took Bairstow’s Championship tally this summer to 980 runs in 12 innings at an average of 108.88, with five hundreds and four fifties; one can hardly remember a sequence quite like it.
Bairstow’s total contribution to this game of 213 runs masked the fact that Yorkshire, despite their evident superiority, were never at their radiant best.
Only Bairstow and Andrew Gale contributed significantly to the first innings, while the bowling, collectively, was not at its sharpest.
It was a workmanlike win, and one that leaves work to do in the last six games.
The problem for the chasing pack, however, is that even when Yorkshire are not playing to their optimum, they are still seemingly too good for everyone else – with or without the remarkable Bairstow.
Before Bairstow could apply the coup de grace, Yorkshire had to first polish off the Worcestershire batting, which they finally did 35 minutes before lunch.
Ross Whiteley, 65 overnight, advanced to a splendid 101, his third first-class century, as the visitors left a nuisance target, albeit one that never seriously threatened Yorkshire.
Whiteley correctly reasoned that the best form of defence was attack, and he cut, pulled and drove impressively.
Adil Rashid was struck for six over mid-off into the Trafalgar Square End, and also swept for four towards the West Stand tea bar, the ball disappearing under an orange roller and having to be retrieved by a man with a sweeping brush.
Rashid endured a frustrating morning and could not take the one wicket he required to reach 400 in first-class cricket at the ground where he made his debut as an 18-year-old in 2006.
If that 400th does not come for England during the Ashes, it could well arrive when Yorkshire return to Championship action here against Durham on August 7.
Yorkshire captured their first wicket yesterday in the seventh over when Joe Leach slapped Steve Patterson to Liam Plunkett at short cover, ending a stand of 51 in 15 overs with Whiteley.
Whiteley, the 26-year-old Sheffield-born left-hander, who had hit Yorkshire to the tune of 91 not out from 35 balls with 11 sixes eight days earlier in the T20 Blast, frustrated them again.
It took the second new ball to get rid of him, Sidebottom winning an lbw verdict with his opening delivery from the Trafalgar Square end.
In the previous over, the first with that new ball, Jack Brooks bowled Jack Shantry with an excellent inswinger, Sidebottom rounding off the innings by bowling Charlie Morris to break a last-wicket stand of 26.
With rain about, Lees betrayed Yorkshire’s intentions when he lofted Leach for a straight six in the second over.
But opening partner Will Rhodes fell on the stroke of lunch, skying off-spinner Saeed Ajmal to deep-ish mid-on.
Yorkshire lost two wickets in six balls soon after the break when Jack Leaning was lbw to Morris and Andrew Gale run-out after a mix-up with Lees.
But Bairstow settled nerves en route a 39-ball half-century, while Lees reached that mark for the first time in 14 Championship innings.