Sayers defends age-old tradition
Posted in Domestic Cricket
As Yorkshire collapsed to 141 all out on the opening day of the Roses match with Lancashire at Liverpool, the old virtues of grit and determination that have come to define this famous rivalry were all but missing from a sorry White Rose effort.
There was, however, one notable exception.
Opener Joe Sayers battled gamely on a damp wicket that offered seam and swing for Lancashire’s well-drilled pace attack, along with vicious bite and spit for exiled Wakefield tweaker Gary Keedy.
It was a surface that harked back to the days of uncovered pitches – the ‘old stickies’ that bring a twinkle to the eye of retired county pros, if not a slightly furrowed brow to those of a batting persuasion.
Had Brian Close and Geoffrey Boycott been in attendance in Aigburth’s picturesque Victorian pavilion – if they were, it was disappointing neither made their way down to chastise us youngsters in the press tent – Yorkshire’s old-stagers would have nodded approvingly at Sayers’ work.
Survival was the focus of his attentions early on, with the ball hooping around under a slate grey Merseyside sky – and the left-handed batsman, who spent the second half of last season fighting and eventually overcoming the debilitating effects of post-viral fatigue syndrome, rarely deviated from this course.
England seamer James Anderson, on a rare Lancashire appearance, was in the midst of one of those spells that has become his calling-card over the past 18 months.
You know the kind: the ball moving both ways at pace as if the Burnley Express is controlling it at will on an invisible length of string.
Despite beating the edge on a number of occasions, there was a feeling Anderson did not make the batsmen play enough. Although he might have troubled off stump a touch more, this impression was given weight by the fact Sayers simply refused to give credence to this swinging both ways nonsense.
If such a thing is possible, he left emphatically at times, giving an object lesson is obduracy. When the 27-year-old dispatched a sublime cover drive to the fence in Anderson’s eighth and final over of a wicketless stint, it seemed a fitting way for Sayers to celebrate a battle won – with a proper cricket shot.
Both sides of the Pennine divide have a history of producing such defiant characters whose focus, or perhaps outright bloody-mindedness, has eventually shone on the biggest stage of all.
Most cricketers in their mid-40s would be settling into a life of retirement and occasional village games, but Close thought it best to let Michael Holding and company pepper his body at lethal pace when recalled to the England Test side against the against a fearsome West Indies outfit in 1976.
On the Red Rose side, Mike Atherton‘s epic powers of concentration cast him as the one-man backbone of the talented but flimsy England team he captained in the 1990s. His career-best 185 not out, amassed over 643 minutes to save the Johannesburg Test against South Africa in 1995 stands as a modern-day monument to stoicism.
In this respect Atherton was Boycott’s heir in the England team. A net-obsessive and fiercely proud Yorkshireman, Boycott made it his business to grind the finest bowlers around the world into submission – something borne out by the fact England lost only 20 of 108 Tests in which he strode purposefully out to the middle.
Although a left-hander, there is much of Boycott’s influence to be seen in Sayers. It was there in his eight-and-a-half-hour career-best 187 against Kent in 2007, and it was on display in Liverpool today.
His diligent half-century came up in the 43rd over and a 148-ball stay was only ended by a remarkable one-handed catch from Steven Croft at backward point, Anderson getting his man.
However, Yorkshire did have another man apparently ready to knuckle down and carry the fight. Captain Andrew Gale had been at the crease for more than two hours in compiling 31 at a strike-rate below 30.
The ball after skipping down the pitch and pushing Keedy through extra-cover for two that might have been four but for the soggy outfield, the left-hander was somehow bowled around his legs by the left-arm spinner.
It was not what the situation required. Close and Boycott would have been furious.