Unsurprisingly for an early April morning with not an inch of blue, never mind a slice of sun, peeking out from under the thick duvet of cloud overhead, the temperature in Leeds is on the chilly side – in a three over spell just prior to lunch, Sean Ervine will remove not one, but two sweaters before serving up a pace it might be overly generous to describe as medium. With only Headingley’s rose-shaped floodlights shining down from above, Fidel Edwards delivers the first ball of the Championship season, which Adam Lyth duly works to the leg-side for a couple runs. 2017, welcome to the crease.
In spite of such uninspiring conditions, it’s a relief to finally be able to concentrate, once again, on activity inside the boundary rope. Ominous skies have hung over domestic cricket all through the off-season as 2016’s glorious summer quickly became a winter of discontent. Durham’s harsh treatment at the hands of the ECB, the thorny subject of Kolpak players and the seemingly unstoppable march to franchise T20 are all issues I hope to write about in the coming weeks, but today is about reacquainting myself with events on the field.
Rather than delay the start of my year for a further fortnight until Lancashire’s opening game at Old Trafford – the Red Rose county beginning their campaign with two consecutive away matches in the South – I venture over the Pennines and am rewarded with two intriguing sessions of cricket. Had a chronically slow over-rate from Hampshire not stretched the afternoon out until ten minutes past four, I may have stayed a little longer.
Perhaps in a bid to keep themselves warm, the Yorkshire openers race to 39-0 in little more than six overs. In what may be an early audition for 2020’s new competition, Alex Lees scores at a run-a-ball whilst Lyth deposits the already expensive Edwards into the members seats for a six over the short boundary to the east.
The former West Indies Test bowler does swiftly gain a measure of revenge as he swings the ball into Lees’ stumps and thus the impetus of the morning over to his side – if the opening half hour belonged to Yorkshire, then the rest of the session is very much the visitors’. Lyth soon follows his opening partner from the field after edging Gareth Berg to the wicketkeeper before Berg and Kyle Abbott bring the run-rate down to a much more respectable figure as they stifle Peter Handscomb and Gary Ballance through to lunch.
Handscomb’s first innings for the White Rose is a curious one. After an hour and a half in the middle he has faced only fifty deliveries, resulting in 17 runs, and barring a couple of edges for four and a straight drive off Abbott, he barely seems to have put bat to ball – the Australian clearly prefers a well-judged leave to a solid defensive block. Shortly after lunch, he appears to have find his touch only for Edwards to fire one past him and find his stumps.
The fall of Handscomb, bowled for 25, is the first domino of a collapse as 5 wickets in just eleven overs. Jack Leaning leans in and then promptly leans out again, dismissed leg before wicket leaning forward to Berg for 7. Timothy Thomas Bresnan, usually such a reliable source of middle-order runs, is no doubt as surprised as I am to see himself yorked by Edwards for a duck. Andy Todd quickly departs without scoring either, removed by a Kolpak special: caught Rilee Rossouw, bowled Abbott. Azeem Rafiq, at least, has the distinction of making it into double figures, even if it is only in the number of balls he faces before he is bowled by Abbott for 6.
At the other end from all this is Ballance, in his first game as permanent captain after his own winter to forget – a poor return for England in Bangladesh making him apparently ‘unselectable’ for the India Tests. As his teammates tumble around him, he leads by example and calmly brings up his fifty with a boundary in the midst of the chaos.
Thirty minutes before the scheduled tea break, the over-rate has become so slow it appears that Hampshire are, in fact, conducting an experiment in how to not just stop time, but actively reverse it. Whether their captain, James Vince, is loathed to remove any of his quicks – who so far have had a very successful day – or has simply not been paying attention to the scoreboard, Liam Dawson is belatedly installed at the Football Stand End. A decision that clearly pleases the weather gods as the introduction of spin brings forth a blue sky and a first appearance for the sun.
Someone who has paid attention to the scoreboard is that man Ballance. Teasingly poised on 82 with just three overs until the break, he clearly has no wish to wait until the evening to complete his ton and promptly blasts 20 runs off seven balls to reach his century. By the time tea is finally taken, Ballance and Steven Patterson have weathered the Hampshire storm and added 79, two-thirds of which coming from the bat of the Yorkshire Captain.
For a day that had started in wintry conditions, the last hour has felt very much like summer. The sun is shining bright in the sky, an unbeaten centurion is very much ‘in’ at the crease, but with no action on the field for another twenty minutes, it seems as good a time as any for me to retire from this game and head home.
Yorkshire 231 for 7 at tea.