MATCH CENTRE 

Yorkshire face a final day battle for victory in the opening round of the LV= Insurance County Championship at Headingley following Leicestershire’s skilful fightback on day three.

An opening round Division Two win looked very much on the cards for Yorkshire as they dominated the majority of the first two days; the visitors started day three on 201-5 in reply to 517.

And it still very well might be, but frustration came in the form of Foxes sixth-wicket duo Peter Handscomb and Rehan Ahmed, who completed a partnership of 141 inside 34 through to late morning to help ensure a total of 415. 

That meant Yorkshire didn’t start their second innings until the dying embers of the afternoon, and when they did so in what remain excellent batting conditions the lead was only 102. Further to that, either side of tea they slumped to 29-3, losing Adam Lyth, Fin Bean and Dawid Malan to single-figure scores. 

It meant a search for quick runs to enable as much bowling time was dampened, and they had to exercise caution through James Wharton and Shai Hope, who both went on to record impressive half-centuries in a close of play 220-4 from 47 overs – a lead of 322.

Shai Hope pulls

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Wharton’s 52 off 91 balls represented his first first-team fifty, while Hope finished on 83 not out. George Hill also followed suit with a more aggressive 57 not out.

Australian Handscomb, a former Yorkshire overseas player – 2017, led the way with 112 for the Grace Road county, while 18-year-old Ahmed ably supported him with 85 to ensure a total of 402. Chris Wright also clubbed 66 not out. 

Recent England senior debutant Ahmed will take a lot of the headlines.

On day one of this match, he conceded 22 from his first over before elevating his performance. First of all, he finished with three wickets in the first innings before batting with a determination and class beyond his tender years.

He hit 14 boundaries in his 121-ball stay at the crease, including a particularly crisp on drive off Ben Coad.

Yorkshire went through the vast majority of the morning wicketless until Coad trapped Handscomb lbw (328-6), and they were forced to look for alternative ways to get their wickets.

That involved Matthew Revis coming around the wicket and bowling short, a tactic Ahmed was able to combat.

Unfortunately, a trio of run out opportunities evaded Yorkshire, including one with Handscomb on 99 as he attempted to scramble for a single that would take him to three figures off 180 balls.

He pushed for a quick single into the short cover region, only for Wharton to pick up, shy at the non-striker’s end stumps and narrowly miss with Handscomb short of his ground. 

But his survival ensured the Victoria batter became only the seventh man to score a hundred on debut for Leicestershire and the first since Ben Slater in 2020.

Yorkshire were handed a significant boost in the first over of the afternoon when Jordan Thompson struck twice in three balls as the score fell to 332-8.

First ball back, he had Ahmed caught at first slip by Hill before trapping Michael Finan lbw two balls later.

But just when you thought Yorkshire had re-asserted their authority, they were met with Chris Wright’s belligerent 66 not out, including three sixes down the ground off Dom Bess.

The innings, which saw Yorkshire miss out on a third bowling bonus point,  was wrapped up by a couple of quick Revis wickets, including Josh Hull steering a short ball to leg-slip. 

Thompson and Matt Milnes finished with three wickets apiece.

Yorkshire’s second innings begun 20 minutes before the tea break, and it wasn’t the start they wanted. Shortly after the break, they fell to 29-3.

Lyth pulled left-arm quick Finan to square-leg in the first over before Bean edged Wright behind and Malan miscued high to midwicket off Finan, the latter two wickets coming early in the evening. By that stage, Yorkshire led by 131.

Thankfully, Wharton and Hope united to lift Yorkshire spirits again.

Both men drove well, with Wharton hoisting Ahmed’s leg-spin over long-off for six en-route to a 77-ball fifty.

By the time he offered a return catch to the same bowler – 125-4 – Yorkshire led by 227 and the fourth-wicket duo had put on 96. 

Hope reached his fifty almost immediately off 61 balls at the venue where he became the first man to score two hundreds in the same first-class match in 2017 when playing a Test for the West Indies against England. 

Hill then contributed to the late acceleration with a couple of sixes, reaching his fifty off 60 balls. Hill and Hope shared an unbroken 95.

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