Byas is put in a bind

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DOUBTLESS Northamptonshire will eventually devise some way this summer of failing to win the County Championship. Their teams have been doing so with supreme conviction for 90 years, and the winds of change which are purportedly about to sweep through the first-class game may not be up to blowing away that kind of history. If there is a title to be won, Northamptonshire can be relied on to lose it.

It will, however, take a resilient lot to beat them, a bill Yorkshire could fit. In a fascinating, well-poised match at Abbeydale Park, Northamptonshire, thanks to the diligent obstinancy of their tail, established a solid first- innings lead. This was somewhat eroded by an assiduous Yorkshire third- wicket partnership, the ending of which at once shifted the balance.

Northamptonshire are clearly intent on looking like a close-knit team. When they took the field in the early afternoon they went into a huddle, arms around each other, ready for the fray. It was a scene that made the average buddy-buddy movie look short on male bonding. The side is probably greater than the sum of its parts, and there are some pretty fair parts.

Rob Bailey duly completed a faultless century that spanned six hours at the start of the day, his first of the season. Some pyrotechnics from Allan Lamb, batting late in the order after suffering from a sore neck on the previous day, threatened briefly to put the match beyond Yorkshire as he unleashed an explosive and majestic array of strokes.

Yorkshire have their own championship aspirations this season, not least because their fielding has been consistent going on inspired.

The acting captain, David Byas, took a magnificent catch, low at second slip, to end Lamb's foray. This followed a barely less commendable effort by Michael Bevan when Mark Robinson was achieving some notable swing.

The runs accumulated by a judicious and impressive Northamptonshire tail were probably invaluable. They were disinclined to try anything too aggressive but they did little that was ill-judged.

Anil Kumble, their Indian left-arm spinner, who may have to take 100 wickets for Northamptonshire to go all the way in the Championship, was obviously hired for his bowling. But this was an important innings by a tail-ender, and the strength and certainty of his follow-through suggests that he may hold up other sides.

If the lead was not large enough, by some distance, to put Yorkshire out of the match, it surely made Northamptonshire marginal favourites. The odds shortened when they removed both openers, Michael Vaughan and Anthony McGrath, whose combined age is 39. Vaughan, at 20, is doubtless giving the junior man the benefit of his experience.

Michael Bevan and Byas restored Yorkshire's fortunes and some of Bevan's pulling was viciously effective. He got out, however, when he should not have done and provoked a tumble of wickets late in the day which left Yorkshire precariously placed. After so much hard work it was carelessness of the first order, to say the least, and who knows, Northamptonshire may yet not come up with a way of avoiding the top of the table by September.

The key to it may lie in the bowling of Kumble, who, it is hoped, will bowl over after over this summer. He was not brought on until the 29th over of the innings, which seemed an unconscionably long time. It seemed sillier still when, as the day ebbed away, he took three for two in the space of five balls.

It was devastating stuff but the Indian leg-breaker may like to have a proper wicketkeeper to read his wiles rather than the young part-timer Robert Warren, who was looking slightly out of his depth.