Even in a practice match where time spent in the middle is the only major criterion of the usefulness of the exercise, the abundant talent of Alex Lees continues to beguile and enthral.
Lees will celebrate his 21st birthday – in a suitably restrained fashion, we have no doubt – on the second evening of Yorkshire’s opening County Championship match against Somerset at Taunton next week. He is still, as they say, learning his trade.
All the same, the young opener’s domination of an admittedly injury-ravaged Northamptonshire attack at Wantage Road yesterday morning was something to see. Lees hit 16 fours and a six, the latter a savage pull off Steven Crook, in reaching a pre-prandial century in just 91 balls.
Adam Lyth, who, Lord alone knows, is no slouch and batted pretty well for ninety minutes or so, contributed just 30 to the first-wicket stand of 103 before he edged Oliver Stone to wicketkeeper David Murphy.
Lees proceeded serenely on to a hundred which will be lodged in few record books but will remain in the memory of those who witnessed it. It was not the equal of his century at Lord’s last June or his double-hundred at Chesterfield; those innings were played in the heat of County Championship battle and thus deserve a far higher status. Yet Lees’s innings on a cold April morning at Wantage Road was nevertheless a reminder of why he is being tipped as one to watch.
Already, full international call-ups are being predicted for the Halifax apprentice; his rejection of such talk will no doubt be as strong and unfussy as his strokeplay. But as long as he drives as firmly as he did yesterday, the discussions will continue; he probably knows that, too.
Lees was dismissed ten minutes or so after lunch for 106 when he pulled Crook to deep square leg where Maurice Chambers took a good tumbling catch. That sparked something of a collapse with Adil Rashid, Gary Balance and Oliver Robinson soon joining him in the pavilion. Only Ballance contributed more than twenty; and he made just 23.
Indeed, the Yorkshire innings was in danger of losing its way until some typically forthright blows from Liam Plunkett, who made 43, restored the equilibrium somewhat. Later on, Steve Patterson’s unbeaten half-century completed Yorkshire’s recovery from 205 for six to 316 all out.
The Northants attack stuck to their task well, just as Jason Gillespie probably hoped it would, for what is the point of an easy victory in a practice match? Steven Crook and Azhar Ullah both claimed three wickets and both sides have performed well in this game, given that woollens have been the order of the days.
The Yorkshire seamers will get another workout in the morning. The weather forecast is set fair, albeit that the temperature is enough to furrow the brow of all gardeners. Then it is on to Taunton and the beginning of the serious stuff.