Yorkshire 206 for 5 (Lyth 81, Root 56*) trail Nottinghamshire 408 (Clarke 112, Olivier 5-96) by xxx runs
When it comes to assessing Joe Root’s priorities for the summer, only the most blinkered Yorkshire supporter would put scoring runs for the county at the top of the list. So only about 2.9 million of them then.
Outside the Broad Acres, Root’s appearance for the opening Championship fixture of the season at Trent Bridge was about receiving confirmation that he is in good order for the World Cup and Ashes challenges that make up the centrepiece of a keenly anticipated England summer. An unbeaten 56 was a determined start, enough to keep the chill out of the bones in this early April start to the season.
But Root would not be a Yorkshireman without also being aware of expectations closer to home. He might fill Yorkshire hearts with pride – a universal appreciation which stretches from Bedale to Barnsley – but he has not made a Championship score of note for them since a little matter of 213 against Surrey at Headingley in May 2016.
The following year he was made England’s Test captain. With such responsibilities, and a non-stop fixture list, it has been demanding enough to keep body and soul together without attuning himself to the county game. On nine subsequent occasions since that double-hundred, he has failed to reach 50, inviting sad stares into the mid-distance from cloth-capped loyalists and grudging observations that there’s nowt so queer as folk.
This was not a dapper Root innings, in fact it was far removed from the lightsome, occasionally overly cute shot-making that has increasingly characterised his game as he has developed into one of the finest batsmen in the world. It was earnest, worldly-wise, and by the time that bad light curtailed play 10 overs early, his unbeaten 56 had spanned 110 balls.
He started with a spurt, encouraged along by two half-volleys from Luke Fletcher, a hulking figure in comparison but one who seemed reduced to geniality by the slender, stiff-limbed figure 22 yards away. He was dropped at third slip, on 8, by Chris Nash – Paul Coughlin the bowler to suffer – but scooted to tea in much the same vein.
It was in the final session that his mood shifted. The game had been billed as Root v Broad and from the moment his England colleague appeared for a post-tea spell, Root was all thrift and caution. Here suddenly was a batsman not of limitless potential but one who would reuse a tea bag three times, stirring it suspiciously, wringing everything out of its potential. After 26 from 26 balls, he made a single off the next 33. Stuart Broad was repelled crisply enough, with a few play-and-misses along the way, as was another England man, Jake Ball: a hard-won victory.
There were enough uneasy moments to ensure that Root never dominated again. A bottom edge against Ball flew perilously close to his stumps on 39. Coughlin almost caught him on 44, off Broad, at deep backward square and briefly left the field for running repairs. Fletcher, howling for lbw, struck him painfully amidships on 49 and caused him to sink to his knees; not quite ‘a nation gasped’ but disturbing enough.
Yorkshire needed his resolve. Nottinghamshire had been kept in check from 324 for 5 overnight thanks to five wickets on debut for Yorkshire’s South African Kolpak signing Duanne Olivier, including the uprooting of Joe Clarke’s middle stump with one that jagged back after he had added only three runs to his overnight 109. But it was still a daunting total on a second-day pitch that looked slightly quicker and a touch uneven.
There were two wickets for Broad – Harry Brook leg before and Tom Kohler-Cadmore, tricked out when he pulled to deep square – and Fletcher struck the stumps of Gary Ballance and Jack Leaning, the latter second ball for nought with one that came back at him. It was a god effort from Fletcher whose pre-season preparations were disrupted by the birth of his second child, Rosie.
The most authoritative innings was not Root’s. It belonged to Adam Lyth, whose 81 led Yorkshire’s retort until he drove Ball to deepish mid-off. A footnote, somewhat unfairly, on a day when the well-being of the England captain was on most people’s minds.