If the first day of the Headingley Test against New Zealand was all about James Anderson becoming the first English bowler to reach 400 wickets, the second day was all about Alastair Cook’s quest to become the first English batsman to score his 8901st Test run.
When New Zealand’s tailenders plundered boundaries off short ball after short ball from Stuart Broad, it was delaying Cook’s innings. When the final wicket was eventually taken to give Broad the most uneconomical five-for in Tests, the record was in everybody’s mind. When lunch arrived with the England skipper five runs short of Graham Gooch, it was the talk over the tables and picnics.
He reached the milestone with a square drive on his 13th ball after lunch. A special banner was unfurled, the congratulatory tweets (for a captain who doesn’t even have a twitter account) rolled in. Cook’s own celebration was calm and understated, merely acknowledging the applause and chants of the Yorkshire crowd.
Relatively few people noticed or cared about the contribution of Adam Lyth to England’s opening partnership. And yet, in the context of a match which New Zealand need to win to avoid dropping to seventh in the Test rankings, he played an invaluable knock against New Zealand’s much-vaunted seam attack in front of his home crowd.
Yorkshire’s premier opener earned his Test call-up in part due to fine performances on this very ground. He got off the mark with a single through the gap in the covers, and rotated the strike better than Cook against the seam attack of Boult and Southee. His bat always makes a lovely sound, like a door being firmly shut on the ball. As in county cricket, at the Test level: he was resolute in defence, but worked the gaps nicely whenever the opportunity arose.
His boundaries were carefully risk-assessed pieces of batting rather than glorious strokes. Flicks to fine leg, steering length balls into gaps, and cutting wide balls through backward point all helped him ease the pressure on himself, his partner and his team. He left the ball better than he did for Yorkshire even in his breakthrough year; this is a batsman improving in front of our eyes.
Lyth was tested against the short ball: Trent Boult caught him in two minds when he had 38 to his name, and surprised him again on 45. The next bouncer saw him ducking comfortably. He had seen the threat, survived it, corrected himself, moved on. It was Test-class batting with a mentality perfectly suited
The Yorkshire crowd is frequently accused of being shamelessly partisan, and today did little to dispel that claim. When Cook became England’s leading run-scorer, the crowd applauded but stayed in their seats. When Lyth pulled Henry to long leg to bring up his fifty, the crowd were on their feet. The story of the day had started to change. This was not about England any more.
He drove more confidently after reaching his half-century. He read Boult’s lines perfectly both when attacking and defending: his back-foot square drive that took him into the 60s was his reward for five balls of studious patience. When Boult overpitched, Lyth shuffled forward and punched the ball straight through for four. Mark Craig was forced to try something different; it came out short on the leg side, and Lyth put him away for four.
He moved into the 90s with an untroubled push into the covers. On 90, he had a stroke of luck when the ball came off the edge of his bat and nudged the stumps, but failed to dislodge the bails. He lost captain Cook when a terrible not out lbw decision was reviewed and was joined by Yorkshire colleague Gary Ballance.
He wafted outside off stump in the 90s, and on 94 he smashed Mark Craig to mid on, but Neil Wagner was wrong-footed and in no position to take the catch. Two balls later, he nailed a slog-sweep over midwicket to reach three figures for the first time in his Test career. He punched the air, he jumped, he embraced Ballance, then he took his guard once more, the cheers of the Yorkshire fans – his fans – ringing in his ears.
New Zealand might lament their decision to go into this Test with only four front-line bowlers including Mark Craig, who struggled for consistency at Lord’s. Corey Anderson’s back injury also deprived them of their regular fifth bowling option. However, Lyth and Cook read the match situation perfectly in seeing off New Zealand’s most potent threats (Southee and Boult) before accelerating after lunch. Weather may yet take enough time out of the game to prevent a positive result, but the second day at Headingley was one to make England fans, especially Yorkshire-leaning ones, extremely proud.