Nottinghamshire v Yorkshire: Alex Lees repays captain Andrew Gale’s faith at Trent Bridge

Yorkshire's Alex Lees.
Yorkshire's Alex Lees.

THE fact that Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale had talked about the possibility of promoting himself to open the batting in this match suggested that Alex Lees’s place was less than secure.

Despite scoring 86 in the Champion County game against MCC in Abu Dhabi, Lees had started the Championship season with scores of seven and one against Hampshire and 19 and 20 against Warwickshire.

The consensus was that it was a toss-up between Lees and Jack Leaning as to who would get the chop for this fixture.

After much soul-searching by the Yorkshire hierarchy, the axe fell on Leaning, despite the fact that he scored a half-century against Warwickshire last week and hundreds in both Championship matches against Notts last year.

The decision to keep faith with Lees, therefore, whose opening stand with Adam Lyth was so crucial to Yorkshire’s title triumph in 2014, was both a leap of faith and a vote of confidence.

Lees’s last hundred in any form of cricket came in this fixture just over a year ago, and he struggled for much of 2015 to replicate the form he showed the previous year. But that faith was rewarded when Lees led the way on a rain-affected second day.

After Yorkshire slipped to 24-3 in reply to Notts’s first innings 261, his unbeaten 91 helped them to the much happier state of 170-4 on a day when 53.3 overs were lost to the elements.

If the weather frustrated the Bank Holiday crowd, who waited over four hours for a restart after rain prevented play straight after lunch, there remains every prospect of a positive result.

Good conditions are forecast for the second half of a game that is perfectly poised, with Yorkshire perhaps marginally the happier at this stage.

If Notts’ opening day score was below-par, particularly after they had been 77-0 after a wayward first hour by the Yorkshire bowlers, they did not allow the visitors’ star-studded batting line-up to get away from them.

That was due to a combination of splendid bowling by Jake Ball, a 25-year-old pace bowler now firmly on England’s radar, and some questionable umpiring decisions, with doubts over at least two of the Yorkshire wickets.

The first was when Michael Gough adjudged Adam Lyth lbw to the first delivery of the day from Ball. Lyth appeared to be struck outside the line of off stump, and it was a blow to the left-hander’s hopes of replacing Notts’ Alex Hales in the Test team.

Ball struck twice in two deliveries when he had Gary Ballance caught behind and Joe Root held at grass height at first slip by Riki Wessels for a golden duck, the sort of catch that invariably looks inconclusive when shown on television replay.

But there seemed nothing inconclusive about the dismissal of Jonny Bairstow, whom Richard Kettleborough adjudged lbw to Harry Gurney, despite the fact that the ball appeared to be drifting down leg-side. Bairstow had been playing well, and his stand of 83 in 17 overs with Lees helped Yorkshire recover from their troublesome start.

Bairstow hit one particularly handsome cover drive to the boundary off Jackson Bird, the Australian overseas player, and his departure left Yorkshire 107-4 in the run-up to lunch.

Lees, who also hit a particularly handsome cover-drive to the boundary off Bird, appeared relaxed and nimble in conditions that offered just enough help to the bowling team.

Ball worried him and indeed all of the Yorkshire batsmen, but he would have worried anyone in an opening spell of 7-2-20-3 from the Radcliffe Road end.

Ball even out-bowled Stuart Broad, making a rare Championship appearance, and he has more than a touch of Broad about him in terms of style and stature.

On this evidence, it would be no surprise if Ball came into contention for the three-Test series against Sri Lanka that starts at Headingley on May 19.

His wickets yesterday took him to 22 in first-class cricket already this summer.

After the long rain interruption after lunch, which scattered the stands as surely as a bomb scare, 14.3 overs were bowled when play resumed at 5.45pm before a further shower prevented the last nine balls.

Gale, who has a splendid record against Notts, kept Lees company in a gritty unbroken stand of 63 in 20 overs.

Another for whom this type of match situation seems tailored, Gale fought hard to ensure that Yorkshire did not suffer further dents in the wickets column.

However, the visitors should have fallen to 165-5 only for one of the most unexpected developments of this or any other cricket season – a dropped catch by Chris Read.

Lees, on 88, cut Gurney away to the wicketkeeper’s left, but Read spilled a straightforward chance by his standards.