Hampshire have been widely accused of depending too heavily on Kolpak cricketers this summer. Putting something back into the English game, Hampshire have gone a long way in this championship match to give Joe Root a taste of what the Test captaincy will be like in July.
In his first game for Yorkshire since his appointment, Root came in to face two new-ball bowlers from South Africa, just as he will at Lord’s on his captaincy debut. Root moreover was forced to bat in the second over, after fielding for more than a day and a half, and soon his team’s score was 13 for two wickets.
Root was off the mark second ball with a hairy single, edged into the slips, off Gareth Berg. Berg may be no more than medium-pace, but he and the more illustrious Kyle Abbott pitched the new ball up - fuller than Yorkshire’s pace bowlers had done, even Ben Coad - and turned a game which had been shaping up as a draw, owing to the pitch’s slowness, on its head.
Facing Abbott for his third ball of the season, Root clipped through square-leg majestically. But that was it: nothing more on his legs. For the next 28 balls Root was tied down by excellent full-length bowling just outside offstump, until he reacted with frustration and tried to force through the offside - only the ball from Berg bounced, left him and had England’s new captain caught behind.
If an innings of eight off 31 balls did not seem much, it was exceeded only by Gary Ballance of Yorkshire’s top six. To some fanfare it had been heralded as one of the strongest county line-ups ever seen on a screen, if not on paper, as Alex Lees was the only member who had not scored a Test century. But nobody had told the umpires, who triggered half of them leg-before-wicket.
Lees looked a shade unlucky as the ball might have been too high, while his opening partner Adam Lyth was bowled off an inside edge after a loose defensive stroke. Root might have fancied a look at Peter Handscomb, not only for Yorkshire’s sake but to see what makes the Australian tick ahead of the next Ashes - Handscomb, who had set a world record last winter by not being dismissed for less than 50 in his first seven Test innings - but Root had no time to replace his bat in the dressing-room before Handscomb too was gone, second ball. Standing very deep in his crease, Handscomb shuffled across his crease and might have been struck outside the line but umpire Billy Taylor thought otherwise. It was Abbott’s only wicket in his opening spell, to Berg’s three, but he was the major challenge.
If Hampshire did a good simulation for Root of what may be to come, a score of 19 for four greeted Jonny Bairstow - normally the cue for him to counterattack. But he had just kept wicket for 144.4 overs in his first outing of the season and his first game other than limited-overs since December. He too went lbw, when Brad Wheal jagged a ball back, leaving Gary Ballance, Yorkshire’s new captain, holding a lot of babies.
The phlegmatism which is Ballance’s characteristic may prove something of a disadvantage as a captain when he stands at mid-off and does not appear to become overly involved or animated. But it serves Ballance well when batting in a crisis, and he reached his 50 out of 103 for six.
Root had earlier done his bit to bowl out Hampshire by taking his 30th first-class wicket, which left Gareth Berg suspended on 99. Root had better enjoy his offspin while it lasts because the management of his back is going to take precedence over bowling.
Hampshire, who had been sent in, took their overnight 281 for four to 455 by tea . After James Vince had inside-edged Ben Coad, the pick of Yorkshire’s bowlers by a distance, Berg made his first intervention by tucking into Adil Rashid’s wrist-spin with sweep and pull-drive. Considering the ball swung under thick cloud until nearly lunchtime on day two, Yorkshire’s pace bowling overall was disappointing, even after making allowances for the slow pitch, apart from Coad who out-swung the ball throughout, and scoreboard pressure was to play its part in their collapse.