TRUST Essex. Shrugging aside the absence of Martyn Moxon, who became a father for the second time on Wednesday, Yorkshire were feeling faintly smug at 342 for 4 as the shadows lengthened when a burst of three wickets in five balls from Mark Ilott balanced the books. Beardless Graham Gooch may be, luckless he is not.
Not that any of this could detract from a muscular, not to say timely, career-best 156 from David Byas. Having previously reached three figures just eight times, and 1,000 runs only once, this rangy farmer from Scarborough has scarcely harvested well since his debut in 1986.
Yorkshire's patience has been attributable to a predatory pair of hands and a composed dressing-room presence as much as to any perceived potential at the crease. But to witness the authority and timing of his strokeplay here was to wonder why fulfilment has taken so long.
Granted, the pitch contained about as much devil as a papal sermon, Neil Foster being alone in forcing any evasive action - unless one counts the withering ball from Byas that forced Nasser Hussain from the fray in mid-morning. Fastening on to a John Childs long hop, the Yorkshire No 3 tucked in with such relish that the ball struck the short leg's helmet around the left temple, leaving a sizeable crater. The victim laughed last, mind, returning after tea to swoop low at midwicket and so end Byas's invigorating stint after 267 balls and 26 boundaries.
That the beneficiary was Salim Malik, whose leg-breaks tend to descend coated in snow, rather summed up Essex's initial impotence. Of those who earn their corn with the ball, Foster, whose presence on the circuit continues to defy medical science, enjoyed an encouraging comeback, pinning Ashley Metcalfe leg-before in his second over and later having Craig White taken at second slip by Gooch. Byas then pulled him for 6-4-6 from successive balls, but the quality of English seam is not so high as to prohibit Test consideration for the unluckiest bowler of his generation.
Peter Such kept his customary tight line, truncating Simon Kellett's stylish innings at 52 via a catch at the wicket, but Ilott's maturing left-arm pace created the most vivid impression from an international perspective. Economical before lunch, he accounted for Paul Grayson, Jeremy Batty and the stand-in captain, Paul Jarvis, as Yorkshire shed four wickets in the final three overs. They may live to regret such philanthropy.