Yorkshire and Leicestershire are set for an intriguing final day of their LV=Insurance County Championship clash after the visitors ended a third day strongly at the Uptonsteel County Ground, Grace Road.
In normal circumstances, you would say this Division Two fixture, which has been hit by weather every day, is heading for a draw. Yorkshire are 113-1 in their second innings, leading by 35 with Adam Lyth unbeaten on 51.
But there remains every chance of a result given Leicestershire desperately need to win to keep alive their hopes of overhauling second-placed Worcestershire for promotion. The Pears started the penultimate round 21 points in front.
Yorkshire have a realistic chance to win this without the need for a contrived finish. They can set Leicestershire a stiff target full in the knowledge they have to go for it whatever time is left. That opens up the chance of wickets falling quickly.
Today started with Leicester responding to Yorkshire’s first-innings 155 with 233 all out on the stroke of tea.
George Hill claimed a season’s best 4-69 from 16 overs of seam added to two wickets apiece for Jordan Thompson and Ben Cliff.
The latter impressed with 2-27 from seven overs in his second appearance.
A lot of Yorkshire’s excellent work with the ball was undone as Harry Swindells top-scored for the hosts with 73 to ensure they gained a first-innings lead.
It required a last-wicket partnership of 93 between Swindells and seamer Will Davis to get them there.
Lyth and Fin Bean, with 43, then continued their fabulous recent form at the top of Yorkshire’s order during a disrupted evening session, sharing 112 inside 22 overs for the first wicket.
They both went beyond 900 Championship runs for the season and posted their eighth partnership of 50 or more in the last nine innings, a run including four centuries.
For the Foxes, Swindells backed up his weekend match-winning century in the Metro Bank One-Day Cup final against Hampshire and Davis added a career best 44 not out from number 11.
This is only the third Championship appearance of the season for Davis, and he is enjoying a productive week having earlier taken 4-28 from eight overs.
Yorkshire started the day on 155-9, and their innings was wrapped up inside three balls this morning when Thompson edged Tom Scriven behind, with Ben Cox taking a superb one-handed catch going low to his left.
On early viewing on Tuesday’s day one, this seemed like a pitch which wasn’t doing as much as its colour suggested it would. There is a significant green tinge to it. But it has proved a challenge for batters until the last wicket of Leicestershire’s first innings and then the first of Yorkshire’s second.
Success with the bat in this fixture had been few and far between until then – a far cry from bat dominating ball for the majority of 2023 in this competition.
In truth, Yorkshire could have bowled better and been sharper in the field than they were today. Lyth, for example, dropped two second slip catches in as many balls during the early stages of the afternoon.
And, sandwiched in between a half-century partnership at either end of the Leicestershire innings, some excellent work was done with the ball.
That was led by Hill, who claimed all four of his wickets before lunch, where the Foxes reached at 97-6 inside 29 overs.
Ben Coad struck two balls into the home reply, trapping Rishi Patel lbw for a duck.
The Foxes then recovered from 0-1 to 58-1 through opener Sam Evans and captain Lewis Hill. The latter dominated their partnership with a counter-attacking 42 off 34 balls with eight fours.
But Yorkshire, through Hill, hit back with gusto.
Leicestershire went on to lose four wickets for 22 runs, slipping to 80-5, with Ben Cliff also striking with his second ball like Coad had earlier done.
Hill had his namesake Lewis caught behind before trapping Evans lbw for 15 and getting overseas Pakistani batter Umar Amin the same way. The latter was plumb in front following one that kept low.
Cliff then had Louis Kimber caught by Bean, the ball ricocheting into the hands of third slip as Lyth at second slip parried the initial chance.
In the final over of the morning, Hill then trapped wicketkeeper Ben Cox lbw for 13.
The afternoon started in frustrating fashion for Yorkshire as Scriven was dropped twice in as many balls on two by Lyth at second slip off Coad. The next ball was edged through slips on the ground for four. At that stage, Leicestershire were 116-6 in the 32nd over.
Thankfully, wickets weren’t too far away.
Thompson struck twice in an over as Leicestershire lost three for one run, falling to 140-9.
Scriven saw his off-stump go cartwheeling before Thompson struck again later in the 39th over when Chris Wright was subject of a superb catch above his head from Lyth at second slip.
In the next over, Cliff bowled Scott Currie, with Leicestershire 15 runs in arrears at this stage.
Unfortunately, however, things went downhill quickly for an attack including the unused Ben Mike.
Swindells and Davis took the aggressive option initially, and did it successfully. With Yorkshire then on the back foot and the field spreading, they were able to take a more measured approach to building the partnership.
Swindells reached his fifty off 57 balls as the pair notched a record partnership for that wicket in first-class fixtures between these two counties.
At Park Avenue in 1996, Chris Silverwood and Richard Stemp added 79 in the first innings of a defeat.
Their partnership was ended when Swindells was caught behind off Matthew Revis, signalling tea.
By this time, the light was closing in, and it was clear that we wouldn’t see all of the remaining 47 overs.
So it proved as 25 overs were cut from the day’s allocation thanks to two rain delays and another for bad light. A vivid rainbow even appeared above the main pavilion during the second of the rain delays. There was no play beyond 5.50pm.
There was enough time, however, for Lyth and Bean to confidently wipe out the deficit, the only scare coming when an appeal against Bean on 10 for caught at third slip off Scriven was turned away as the umpires believed the catch hadn’t carried.
Lyth reached his fifty off 61 balls before Bean was bowled trying to leave Scriven alone.