“A GREAT advert for county cricket”.
The words of Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale and his Nottinghamshire counterpart Chris Read said it all after their sides played out a thrilling draw.
Left to score 320 from a minimum of 53 overs, Yorkshire made a valiant effort to get the runs only to call off the dogs once they lost their sixth wicket, that of Liam Plunkett, with the total on 247, at which point they needed 73 from the last seven overs.
Notts then took the wickets of Gale, David Willey and Steve Patterson to leave Yorkshire 253-9 with two balls left, but last man Jack Brooks squeezed a four through gully off Stuart Broad and then survived the final delivery to secure a nail-biting draw.
That Yorkshire got anywhere near a target that would have been the eighth-highest in their history was largely down to Alex Lees, who followed his first innings 92 with a magnificent 107, his first hundred since the corresponding match in April last year.
After Adam Lyth fell to the sixth ball of the innings, Lees and Gary Ballance added 116 for the second wicket in 27 overs to convince Gale that a dart at the target was indeed feasible.
Once Ballance had departed for 43, Joe Root struck a jaunty 27, Jonny Bairstow a whirlwind 35 from 20 deliveries, and Gale promoted Plunkett and Willey ahead of himself to give it some tap.
But a burst of 4-15 from left-arm pace bowler Harry Gurney changed the complexion, and Yorkshire lost 6-26 from Bairstow’s dismissal before holding out for their third draw in three games this season.
Despite expressing pride in his side’s efforts, Gale admitted that Yorkshire also missed a chance to gain their first win.
In truth, it was a squandered opportunity after they had reduced Notts to 98-5 on day three, a second innings lead of just 69.
At that stage, Yorkshire would not have expected to chase anything like 320, but a poor bowling performance yesterday allowed Notts to wriggle free and post a final total of 348, with Chris Read converting his overnight 13 into a score of 101, his 25th first-class hundred.
Yorkshire conceded 197 in 40.2 overs yesterday – including 148 in the morning session, reprising their poor display in the opening session of the game on Sunday, when they leaked 132 runs in 29.3 overs.
“We felt we had opportunities to win the game,” said Gale.
“I think two bad sessions cost us the win – the first morning and then on the final morning when we weren’t quite on it.
“Credit to Notts; they fought really hard and teams are going to raise their games against us.
“If you win the Championship two years in a row, people are going to up their games and try to knock you down.”
When play started yesterday in glorious sunshine, the Notts total stood at 151-5, a lead of 122.
The contest was poised, albeit in Yorkshire’s favour, and they made the perfect start when Root produced a moment of magic. Jack Brooks, operating from the Radcliffe Road end, found the edge of Samit Patel’s bat with the seventh ball of the day, and Root stuck out a right hand at third slip to claim a wonderful low catch.
Patel departed without adding to his overnight 51, ending a stand of 53 with Read that had changed the mood the previous evening.
Broad came in and powered his first ball from Brooks through the covers for four, helping Read raise a fifty stand from just 52 deliveries.
Yorkshire had bowled superbly on day three, but their accuracy deserted them as Notts hammered 77 in the first hour yesterday, Plunkett conceding 30 runs from three overs.
After Read reached 50 from 117 balls, Broad got to the same mark from just 44 deliveries, including a hooked six off Plunkett into the Fox Road Stand.
It took the return of Brooks and the second new-ball to end the partnership at 104, Broad magnificently held at head height by Lyth off a mis-timed drive.
Jake Ball hit a breezy 22 before walking across a delivery from Willey that knocked out his middle stump, and Jackson Bird scored a brisk 23 before Patterson pinned him lbw.
Read was the last out, caught on the mid-wicket boundary off Patterson, who finished with his team’s best figures of 3-57.
When Yorkshire replied, Lyth was strangled down the leg-side off Ball, who got him for a golden duck in the first innings, and Ballance top-edged a reverse sweep off Patel to slip.
Root holed out to deep mid-wicket and Bairstow to deep cover, while Lees was held at long-leg as Yorkshire’s chase gradually subsided.
When Plunkett skied to cover, Yorkshire could no longer risk the pursuit of victory, which Notts then sensed as Gale and Willey fell lbw in quick succession.
When Patterson also went lbw in the last over, the tension became almost unbearable, but Brooks kept his cool amid the mayhem in what was, as the captains said, a splendid advert for the county game.
Championship review: Page 21
Scoreboards: Page 20