A classy, composed partnership of 253 between Joe Root and Gary Ballance saved Yorkshire on the final day of their County Championship curtain-raiser at Trent Bridge. After having been reduced to 24-2 in the eleventh over of the day chasing an improbable 447 for victory, it is a testament to the pair’s performance that when the sides shook hands shortly after five o’clock, the Nottinghamshire players would have felt some relief at being guaranteed a share of the spoils.
The day began with what some described as a minor controversy, but it was in reality an interesting talking point. Nottinghamshire declared with new signing Joe Clarke on 97*, just three runs short of a second century on debut.
In cricketing terms, the decision was entirely correct as Nottinghamshire needed as many overs as possible to prise out Yorkshire’s batsmen (as it transpired, they did not get close to having enough, and declaring any earlier would have put them at risk of defeat). It is perhaps evidence that captains are no longer letting century-related sentiments affect the cold calculation of cricketing decisions, and this can only be a good thing.
Initially, it seemed like they could have afforded Clarke an over or two to reach three figures, as Jake Ball removed both openers in his first spell. The wicket of Adam Lyth was particularly ominous for Yorkshire, given his dogged 81 in the first innings.
Root came to the crease knowing that a significant partnership was needed to give Yorkshire any chance of rescuing the match. The three men below him on the batting order only managed 31 between them in the first innings, and then Nottinghamshire would be into the tail. To compound the problem, he had to face Stuart Broad and a fired-up Ball in early-season conditions.
Broad struck Root with the first delivery he faced. Broad checked that his England team-mate was alright to continue, but the intention was clear: Broad wanted the wicket of the England captain.
There were scares for the pair as the day wore on – Paul Coughlin appealed loudly for a caught-behind when Root was on 46 – but the two men put together an utterly convincing performance that ground Nottinghamshire’s bowlers into a weary submission by the close. Although the proceedings were usually taciturn on Yorkshire’s part, Root could not resist plundering four boundaries in five balls off Coughlin in the over following the caught behind appeal.
Root reached the milestones more swiftly than Ballance – he reached three figures off his 145th ball, while Ballance took 167 balls to reach 50 – but once it was clear that the chances of victory were slipping through Nottinghamshire’s fingers, Ballance upped the tempo and brought up his own century with a delightful six.
The game was then brought to a swift conclusion, and while some Yorkshire fans might chunter on the train home that they could have knocked off the remaining runs had Root and Ballance been prepared to have a dart, deep down they will be relieved that a day which started with two dismal wickets and the prospect of a grim defeat has ended with two outstanding centuries from two outstandingly classy batsmen.
Had Root and Ballance started swinging for the stands after five o’clock, it might have been entertaining for a while, but it could easily have brought an unsatisfying and unedifying end to one of their brilliant innings. Neither deserved to be caught at long on trying to hit Samit Patel out of the ground – they both deservedly ended their innings, and the match, just like their county: unbeaten.