Michael Yardy has provided the Sussex faithful with plenty of fond memories during his 15 years at Hove. He gave them one more on Tuesday when he completed a century in his final home appearance for the county with whom he has spent the entirety of his professional career.
The affection with which Yardy is held on this part of the south coast was made abundantly clear when in the thirteenth over of the day he brought up his 23rd first-class hundred and a surprisingly large crowd leapt out of their seats to let out an almighty cheer.
On another cold, wet and windy September day, there is no doubt that the punters had only turned out in such numbers in the hope that their local hero would allow them to express their gratitude for his services to Sussex – and indeed England – cricket over the years. He didn’t let them down, putting on quite a show in the process.
With Sussex on 303-2, and after 16 overs had been washed away by overnight rain, Yardy resumed Day Two of his side’s LV= County Championship Division One fixture against Somerset on 60. With him was Ashar Zaidi on 90.
Zaidi had the good grace and foresight to depart in the second over of the day after adding just one to his overnight score. The diminutive Karachiite was trapped in front by a rapid Jamie Overton delivery, ensuring that he did not steal even a single lumen of Yardy’s limelight by reaching a century of his own.
Positive from the start, Yardy exhibited some delightful shots, playing with the freedom of a man knowing his career is coming to an end on his own terms.
Missing an injured Craig Overton and lacking control, Somerset began by bowling too short. Yardy capitalised immediately with a series of controlled pull and cut shots, and his score rose quickly.
Over-pitching as they tried to correct their earlier errors, the visiting seamers then offered Yardy an opportunity to show off his front-foot game and he regularly sent the ball racing to the cover and straight boundaries.
In the end, it took just 40 balls for Yardy to score the 40 runs he had needed at the start of the day to reach three-figures. Following the glorious stroke-play that had brought him most of these, it was a delicate nudge off the hips to a shortish delivery from Jamie Overton that took him to three-figures, an appropriately unflashy way for an unflashy cricketer to reach such a landmark.
Wild celebrations followed – as wild as you’re going to get in the Championship, at least – with a beaming Yardy punching the air and thrusting his bat towards the members’ pavilion and the home dressing room. The structures’ occupants responded with equal exuberance.
Ultimately, the emotion appeared to get to Yardy who gifted his wicket to Peter Trego two balls later by guiding a short-ball straight into the hands of James Hildreth at backward square leg.
The 34-year old departed for 104 off 165 balls with seventeen fours to his name and received his second standing ovation of the day. This was nothing less than he deserved given the occasion and, crucially, the part he had played in rescuing the home side from 171-6 (and no bonus points) and taking them to 359-8 (and four bonus points) when he was dismissed.
Yardy had put on 137 with Zaidi – the highest seventh wicket partnership for Sussex against Somerset in Championship history – and then 51 with Chris Jordan in their 11.4 overs together.
Jordan made 11 of those 51 runs, understanding perfectly that his role was to make sure Yardy had sufficient company to complete a fairytale ending to his time at Hove.
After lunch, which came soon after, Jordan began to express himself more freely, playing like a man deserving of his place in the England Twenty20 squad for the tour to the UAE, which was announced today.
The 26-year old picked up regular boundaries, taking a particular liking to a pacey but increasingly erratic Jamie Overton, as he threw off the shackles of his earlier selflessness.
Ably supported by Steve Magoffin (13) and Lewis Hatchett (2*), Jordan fulfilled his side’s aim of securing maximum batting bonus points when he brought up Sussex’s 400 in the 101st over of the innings with a hooked six off Overton.
The fun came to an end four overs later when, on 42 and attempting another maximum, Jordan top-edged Tim Groenewald high into the windy sky to ‘keeper Luke Ronchi – who took a fine, diving catch on the run and ended the Sussex innings on 409.
Somerset scored quickly during the fifteen overs they faced prior to tea, which they reached on 67-1. One-to-watch, Tom Abell (13) was the man to fall, playing on to a widish Jordan delivery as he tried to work the ball through the covers.
Marcus Trescothick looked in excellent form at the other end, scoring freely by way of his trademark cuts and dabs outside the off-stump.
Tom Cooper made a breezy 31 from 28 balls before he was caught behind off Steve Magoffin with the score on 82 and it was left to Trescothick and leading Division One run scorer, James Hildreth to navigate Somerset to the close, which came just after five o’clock with 27 overs of the day remaining and the score on 114 for 2.
Trescothick is the only of Somerset’s three centurions from their match against Hampshire last week who might repeat the feat in this match. He finished the day on 53 not out, having passed a thousand Championship runs in a season for the seventh time in the process.
Amidst the emotion of Yardy’s century, it’s easy to forget that this is a match with plenty riding on it as both sides look to avoid relegation. With the forecast appalling for Wednesday and the pitch possessing few demons, it may be that a positive result is impossible.
In which case, and particularly given the current state of the match in Southampton where eight placed Hampshire are on top of Yorkshire, both Sussex and Somerset will be keen to add to their bonus point tally, making the remainder of the visitors’ first innings crucial.
All that can wait, however. For now, it seems only right to sit back and reflect on a wonderful innings, and indeed a wonderful career, from a fine cricketer.