Roses thriller cruelly overshadowed
Posted in Domestic Cricket
In cricket, as in many walks of life, timing is vitally important.
At any level of the game, an individual’s career can be shaped by their actions at a particular juncture, be it an up-and-coming county player performing under the watching eyes of an England selector for the first time, or a veteran club pro needing runs to retain his place in the second XI.
Similarly, a team’s performance in a promotion or relegation showdown is likely to command more attention than their efforts in a meaningless dead rubber, while county matches at the start of the summer naturally occupy more column inches than games taking place once England are in action.
With this in mind, it is a shame that arguably the most thrilling and eventful match of the domestic season to date took place at a time when many cricket fans have understandably been focussing on the highly-anticipated first npower Test between England and India at Lord’s.
Lancashire captain Glen Chapple could certainly be accused of understating matters when he described his side’s 23-run victory over Roses rivals Yorkshire as “a good advert for county cricket”.
If the Red Rose’s triumph at Aigburth in May, where they chased down a target of 121 in 15 overs with four balls to spare, had provided drama comparable to the final Harry Potter film, this week’s return match at Headingley Carnegie was the equivalent of returning home to find Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint flying around your front room on broomsticks.
Much has already been written about the remarkable events of day two in Leeds (not least in another blog on this website), when Richard Pyrah wrote his name into Yorkshire folklore with a marvellous counter-attacking century that rescued his team from humiliation after Kyle Hogg’s stunning five-wicket burst.
Yet there was much more excitement to come as the game moved towards its conclusion, with Lancashire’s ninth-wicket pair of Hogg and Sajid Mahmood providing a more than passable impression of Pyrah and Ryan Sidebottom to set Yorkshire a challenging fourth-innings target of 284.
When the White Rose slipped to 136 for six at stumps on day three, requiring a further 148 to victory, their greatest rivals had become clear favourites.
However, the presence of Adil Rashid (a man with four first-class centuries and an average of 35) at nine, Ajmal Shahzad (who boasts a first-class average of 28) at 10 and Pyrah (surely the only number 11 in the world with three centuries and a batting average in excess of 30?) as last man hinted at yet another twist in the tale.
By the time lunch was taken yesterday, with Yorkshire needing just 40 and Pyrah new to the crease alongside an increasingly assured Rashid, there was a wonderful buzz around the ground, with supporters and journalists alike eagerly awaiting the game’s final chapter.
Pyrah seemed ready to re-assume the role of home hero and edged his side closer to the winning post with two eye-catching boundaries off Chapple - a sweetly-timed straight-drive followed by an elegant back-foot punch through the covers.
Throughout the morning, each and every run had been cheered by a captivated crowd and, by this stage, mere singles were being greeted with the sort of applause that usually accompanies a century partnership.
Ultimately, however, there was to be no fairytale ending for Andrew Gale’s battling side.
Veteran Lancashire spinner Gary Keedy, undoubtedly one of the finest English bowlers of his generation to not have achieved international honours, had struggled in the early stages of the final day, but came up trumps with 24 runs required as he trapped Pyrah lbw.
The slow left-armer was immediately mobbed by his team-mates, who appeared relieved and delighted in equal measure, before both sides left the field to a richly-deserved standing ovation from an appreciative crowd.
On another week, this game would have been afforded more recognition, but one thing is certain - those who were there will not forget it in a hurry.