THERE was a convivial atmosphere in the hot September sunshine, but there was a resigned mood among spectators at Headingley yesterday.
It was the philosophical air of a crowd that sensed that the game is up, that the dream of a hat-trick of titles is slipping away.
Yorkshire’s position in this match is grim; they go into day three on 57-3 in their second innings, trailing by 188.
To make matters worse, leaders Middlesex have Lancashire 102-5 at Old Trafford in reply to their own first innings 327.
If Yorkshire lose and Middlesex win, Middlesex would hold a 20-point lead over Yorkshire going into the final match of the season between the sides at Lord’s next week.
That would give Middlesex the luxury of being able to lose that game and still win the title on bonus points – the reverse of what happened last year, when Yorkshire clinched the Championship at Lord’s, but lost the match.
Somerset would move one point behind Yorkshire with victory here, and, like the champions, they are praying that Middlesex slip up at Old Trafford to give them a realistic chance of taking the crown.
Somerset host Notts in their final match at Taunton next week, after which we can all put our abacuses away for another year.
On one of the hottest September days in recent memory, with the thermometer nudging 30, Yorkshire’s position was already bleak heading into day two.
Somerset were 107-1, 38 behind, and the sun was beating down from a perfect blue sky.
The swift removal of Marcus Trescothick and Chris Rogers seemed imperative if Yorkshire were to force their way back into the match, and the day was only in its sixth over when Ryan Sidebottom got Rogers with the first of two wickets in five balls.
The Australian was caught at second slip by Adam Lyth, having added five to his overnight 58, and James Hildreth was bowled shouldering arms to one that swung back in from the Rugby Stand end.
When Trescothick chopped on to Liam Plunkett for 73, Somerset were 164-4 and the lead was 19, but Jim Allenby and Peter Trego added 54 in the run-up to lunch.
Sidebottom produced a fine delivery to have Trego caught behind just after the break, ending the fifth-wicket stand at 64, and Somerset slipped to 257-6 when Allenby was lbw pushing forward to Adil Rashid, moments after reaching his half-century.
But Yorkshire’s hopes of bringing the innings to a swift conclusion were ended by Lewis Gregory and Craig Overton, who combined in a seventh-wicket stand of 101 in 21 overs that significantly strengthened the visitors’ hand.
Overton signalled his intentions by lofting Rashid for six over long-on into the Rugby Stand, while Gregory played some pleasant strokes through the offside as Yorkshire generally laboured in the scorching conditions – the 38-year-old Sidebottom excepted, the former England left-armer bowling with the energy of a man half his age.
After Rashid trapped Overton in the final over before tea, Sidebottom had Ryan Davies caught at first slip and then bowled Jack Leach offering no shot to claim his first five-wicket haul of an injury-hit summer.
When Tim Groenewald danced down the track and tried to hit Rashid into the adjoining rugby field, only to be stumped, Somerset were all-out 10 runs shy of maximum batting points.
Gregory finished on a career-best 73, and Somerset had a first innings lead of 245.
Gregory then got to work with the ball, striking in the eighth over of Yorkshire’s second innings when he had Alex Lees caught at first slip.
Lees’s departure for nine followed a duck in the first innings and was a sharp reminder of how sport can lift you up one minute and bite you on the backside the next; last week, Lees narrowly failed to become the first man to score two hundreds in a match at Headingley in the fixture against Durham.
It has been a poor match also for Gary Ballance, the England man following his dismissal for three in the first innings with a single yesterday before being bowled aiming a drive at Groenewald. Ballance seemed to play down the wrong line as his off stump went flying, leaving Yorkshire 23-2 in the 13th over.
Andrew Gale fell in similar fashion when Groenewald arrowed one through the captain’s defences, with late afternoon cloud cover making it more tricky for batting.
Jake Lehmann had a lucky escape when he edged Groenewald between the wicketkeeper and first slip early in his innings.
The Australian counter-attacked with a fierce cover drive off the same bowler as he reasoned, quite rightly, that the positive option was the way to go; a chip off the old block, you might say.
Adam Lyth rode his luck at times but fought hard to stumps, with Yorkshire in need of a miracle today on both sides of the Pennines.