MATCHES in the first division of the County Championship can take an awful lot of winning.
As evidence of this, Yorkshire supporters need do no more than consider events at Lord’s in the last half of yesterday’s game against Middlesex.
And those same loyalists may also be able to ponder the game’s much-vaunted uncertainty if they turn up for the final three acts of this match and discover whether Chris Rogers’s batsmen can score a deeply improbable 472 to pull off what would be one of the wins of the season.
The odds are still heavily in Yorkshire’s favour. All the same, when the Middlesex openers Chris Rogers and Sam Robson began their distant quest few in the crowd thought that the scoreboard would read 230-1 at the close of play.
Rogers is unbeaten on 122 and Dawid Malan has made 28 not out. The one wicket to fall was that of Robson, who was caught at first slip by Gary Ballance off Jack Brooks for a fine 77 which can only enhance his chances of a Test debut this summer.
Yet Ballance, too, will be pondering his England chances, albeit with rather more certainty, after making his second division qne 100 of the season and his fourth century in his last seven Championship innings.
Indeed, when Yorkshire’s number five pouched that vital catch to get rid of Robson, it must have seemed rather longer than a few hours since he had pummelled the Middlesex attack into submission with a magnificent display of attacking batsmanship.
Just ten not out overnight and having survived in the cloudy bowler-friendly conditions on Monday, Ballance had reached 62 at lunch yesterday when Yorkshire were 333-7, giving them a very healthy lead of 388.
The loss of both Liam Plunkett and Ryan Sidebottom early in the afternoon session, added to the state of the game and the arrival of last man Brooks, gave Ballance a licence to attack which he seized with savage eagerness.
The Yorkshire batsman, who will surely take a place in England’s middle order for the Lord’s Test in June, launched a pulverising assault on Middlesex’s bowlers, thrashing 56 runs off 21 balls in a last-wicket stand of 66 with Brooks.
That occupied just 5.4 overs and Ballance whacked six sixes and four boundaries in a murderous, seemingly morale-destroying onslaught on Rogers’ attack.
By the time he was caught at third man attempting to guide Tim Murtagh for yet another four, Ballance had made 130 off 143 balls, hitting 15 fours and five sixes – 96 of his runs - in the process.
Yorkshire’s total was a formidable 416. Stand-in skipper Joe Root’s players probably thought it was enough.
Said Ballance: “I was pretty happy with the knock.
"I got myself in when conditions were tough yesterday and then it was nice to have a licence to swing my arms at the end of the innings today.
“I think it was just one of those days. I hit it quite clean and I was very contented with that. I just have to keep my form and keep getting those big scores.
“Now we’re all hoping for a little bit of cloud cover on the last day of this game, but we’ve got 240 runs in the bank and if our seamers bowl well, we’ll certainly put ourselves in with a chance."
LV County Championship
Middlesex v Yorkshire
Middlesex first innings123 (R J Sidebottom 4-34);
Yorkshire first innngs: 178 (L E Plunkett
56 no; S T Finn 4-50).
Middlesex first innings123 (R J Sidebottom 4-34).
Yorkshire second innings
(overnight 213-4 - J E Root 63, A Lyth 54).
G S Ballance c Finn b T J Murtagh 130
S A Patterson c Malan b Dexter 6
A U Rashid c Simpson b T J Murtagh 43
A J Hodd c Harris b Finn 22
L E Plunkett b Dexter 0
R J Sidebottom c Simpson b Rayner 5
J A Brooks not out 10
Extras lb13 13
Total (110.5 overs) 416
Fall: 1-82 2-96 3-194 4-199 5-216 6-288 7-333 8-333
Bowling: T J Murtagh 21.5-6-77-2, Harris 25-7-62-0, Finn 22-3-89-4, Rayner 26-1-108-2, Dexter 16-2-67-2.
Middlesex second innings
C J L Rogers not out 122
S D Robson c Ballance b Brooks 77
D J Malan not out 28
Extras lb1 nb2 3
Total 1 wkt (51 overs) 230
To bat: N J Dexter, E J G Morgan, J L Denly, J A Simpson, O P Rayner,
J A R Harris, T J Murtagh, S T Finn.
Bowling: Sidebottom 11-2-47-0, Brooks 12-2-77-1, Patterson 6-0-27-0, Plunkett 6-0-28-0, Root 2-0-5-0, A U Rashid 5-0-25-0, Williamson 9-3-20-0.
Umpires: R J Bailey and S J O'Shaughnessy.