Yorkshire’s hopes of survival in the first division of the County Championship were dealt a significant blow on the first day of their match against Somerset at Headingley, as four of the visiting batsmen helped themselves to half-centuries in a total of 374-8 after being put in to bat.
More worryingly for the hosts, their only truly threatening bowler was Jack Brooks, who took four wickets against the club he will be joining at the end of the season.
Whenever you start working somewhere new, you need your new colleagues to show you the ropes. In Brooks’s first over, under variegated clouds at Headingley, Marcus Trescothick did just that, edging him through the slips for four. If there were any initial doubts among the Yorkshire members about Brooks’s loyalty to the side he has served since 2013, it evaporated in his second over when he delivered a short ball that had Eddie Byrom fending to the wicketkeeper.
In a sign perhaps of the struggles that Yorkshire may face next season, it was a wicket neither of whose protagonists will be at Yorkshire, as Andrew Hodd will be retiring next month.
Brooks returned to his fine leg fielding position with a cheeky hat-tip to the Trueman Enclosure. When Trescothick nicked off to Adam Lyth in the slips in the next over to leave the visitors 9-2, Brooks still looked very much at home in the north.
James Hildreth came to the crease and it was soon apparent that Brooks won’t forget this new colleague’s name in a hurry. While Azhar Ali scratched away scratched around on nought for a few overs, Hildreth saw off the opening bowlers and tucked into Matthew Fisher and Josh Shaw with evident pleasure. Shaw in particular was greeted with two boundaries: the first an authoritative cut, then a top edge over the leaping keeper.
Although the scoring slowed when Willey and Brooks returned, Hildreth proceeded serenely to his half-century off just 56 balls, and followed his bat-raiser with a beautiful straight drive off Fisher that whistled to the boundary.
After lunch, Hildreth cemented his place in Brooks’s head with two near-identical languid pull shots for four. He hit a scratchy patch after he moved into the 70s, and nicked off to Willey for 81 having restored Somerset to a broadly even position on a flat batting wicket.
It was down to Ali to press Somerset into the ascendancy. He did play and miss occasionally, but Yorkshire created no clear-cut chances and when he went for a shot, the compliant ball made a reassuring noise and frequently threaded its way through a gap in the field.
He put pressure on Yorkshire’s second-string seamers and forced Willey to bowl Lyth and Kane Williamson’s off spin in tandem in the final session.
Like Hildreth, though, a lapse in concentration cost Ali his chance at a century. An extra burst of pace from Shaw had the Pakistan number three playing all around the ball and losing his off stump. A day that had looked like a boost for Somerset’s admittedly slim title chances was starting to slip away from them.
That it did not is due in large part to the complementary partnership that followed Ali’s wicket between Steven Davies and Lewis Gregory. Gregory, fresh from his heroics in the quarter-final of the Blast, opened his account by firing Adam Lyth into the building works over long-off. Davies played more patiently, waiting for width. Yorkshire gave him width. He cut. He drove. He reached fifty, the third of Somerset’s innings.
The fourth followed soon after, although Gregory needed some fortune to reach the milestone. After tucking into the buffet of medium pacers laid on by Harry Brook, Gregory sliced one up in the air off Brook’s next over, only to be put down by a sun-dazzled Josh Shaw at deep cover. He reached his 32-ball 50 off Jack Brooks, though, with a characteristically swashbuckling four. His appetite clearly undiminished, he sent the next racing to the fence at extra cover as well.
At one point in their partnership, Davies had 60 off 98 balls while Gregory had 60 off just 39. This state of affairs did not last, however, as Gregory thumped the returning Willey for four.
In an over likely to be mentioned again when Brooks completes his move, the Oxford-born seamer denied both his new teammates centuries when Gregory skied a catch to deep midwicket, and Davies offered a low catch to Gary Ballance, who took it well. None of their half-centurions reached three figures – the only blight on an otherwise encouraging day.
For the home side, the failure to turn any of their breakthroughs into a once-traditional Somerset collapse (even Tom Abell staggered to 12 off 42 balls) will be a much greater concern.
It is not clear yet what preparations Yorkshire have made for Brooks’s leaving party – it may yet depend on whether or not they need to economise on the cake with a second division budget. If they can afford icing, on the evidence of today, it should probably read, ‘We will miss you’ – because they certainly will.