Yorkshire v Durham: Alex Lees's distinctive style is seen to good effect as White Rose get early upper hand
HE STANDS with his bat raised slightly above his chest and with the blade at an angle of around 45 degrees.
Just before the bowler runs in, he looks back at his raised bat and checks his alignment, like a motorist checking his rear-view mirror before setting off to drive.
Then, and only then, is Alex Lees ready.
The Yorkshire batsman does not then keep his bat completely still as the bowler runs in – certainly not in the way that his county colleague Jonny Bairstow keeps his bat still.
But he moves his hands slightly up and down to generate momentum, like a father rocking a baby to sleep.
It is one of the most distinctive set-ups in county cricket, and yesterday the Headingley crowd were treated to five hours of it as Lees led the way on a good day for Yorkshire. The opener top-scored with 132 out of 341-5 after the visiting team decided to bowl.
It was his third hundred in this year’s tournament to go with seven half-centuries, and when he reached 84, he became the first Yorkshire player to score 1,000 Championship runs this summer, achieving the feat for the first time.
“To get my first 1,000-run season is very pleasing,” said Lees, whose hundred was his eighth in Championship cricket, and his second at Headingley after he hit 108 when these sides last met here in 2014.
“I’ve felt good all year, and I’ve still got a big job to do in the second innings possibly and then in the final two games of the season.
“I was poor last year; I averaged 33/34, and I have high standards of myself and my game, and I wasn’t hitting them.
“Sometimes, you have to have a backward step to find out a little bit more about yourself, and I feel that the extra experience has probably helped me, and I’ve backed the work that I did in the winter.”
On a sticky day at Headingley, where sunshine intertwined with suffocating cloud, Lees had to fight hard in seaming conditions. Although Durham perhaps did not make best use of those conditions, which could yet help the Yorkshire attack, there was the feeling that the odd ball still had the batsman’s name on it, particularly if he simply sat back and just tried to defend.
Realising that a cautious approach was perhaps more fraught with risk, Lees sought to attack at every opportunity, even if that meant the occasional loose shot or swipe at thin air.
He rode his luck at times, but he also climbed into anything over-pitched or remotely off line, particularly when it came within driving range outside off stump, and he was rewarded for his enterprising strokeplay.
Yorkshire, unchanged from their draw against Hampshire at Southampton, lost Adam Lyth in the fourth over, the left-hander steering Graham Onions to Keaton Jennings at gully.
It was a disappointing shot from Lyth, whose doleful slope off the ground betrayed as much, and it continued a trend of frustrating dismissals for him as he fights to get back into England contention.
Durham had their tails up at that stage, but Lees and Gary Ballance started to flatten them in a second-wicket stand that swelled in stature.
Lees played a stroke of emphatic authority when he pulled Paul Collingwood’s first ball for six, while Ballance was soon driving and pulling to trademark effect.
At lunch, the pair had lifted the total to 110-1, with Lees having reached fifty from 60 balls.
After the break, Ballance followed him to the landmark from 91 balls with seven fours before falling for 71 to Barry McCarthy, who had him caught behind by Collingwood, who stood in as wicketkeeper for part of the day after Michael Richardson suffered a dislocated finger.
Lees and Ballance’s stand was worth 163 in 43 overs, and Yorkshire slipped to 190-3 when Andrew Gale was bowled around his legs by Onions.
Moments later, Jake Lehmann edged Onions through the slip cordon to get off the mark, a stroke of luck on which he seized.
It was at Headingley 10 years ago this month that his father Darren famously scored 339 against the same opponents in his final innings for Yorkshire.
It would have been a bit much to expect Lehmann junior to scale remotely comparable heights on his first innings at Headingley, but he did hit 58, equalling his highest score for the club.
He added 87 for the fourth wicket in 26 overs with Lees, who perished midway through the evening session when he chipped back a full toss to Ryan Pringle.
Lehmann was a victim of the second new ball, caught in the gully from a cut off Chris Rushworth, but Tim Bresnan and Andy Hodd held out to the close.