The list of Yorkshire openers who have achieved great distinction for England is as illustrious as it is daunting. The names Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton, Geoffrey Boycott and Michael Vaughan will echo through the ages. You can pick up their biographies for just a fiver from the homespun book stall in the shadow of the Western Terrace, now renamed the White Rose Stand, but those bargains say more about the bookseller’s local knowledge of his market than the quality of their subjects.
It may be some time before Adam Lyth is deemed worthy of a memoir, but a first Test century provides a memorable opening chapter. Headingley is a long way from Lord’s, geographically and symbolically, and there is no doubt the Yorkshireman benefited from some home comforts after a numerically unimpressive debut at cricket’s HQ.
The little left-hander’s walk to the Nursery Ground nets last week took him past Veuve Clicquot tents and “mustard-trousered sociopaths” (to borrow my colleague Michael Calvin’s memorable phrase). Here at Headingley, the more prosaic sights of a Mr Softee ice-cream van and Leeds Rhino-shirted locals greeted him. As did a warm reception as he bounced to the crease to face the first ball of England’s reply.
Perhaps it helped that all eyes were on partner Alastair Cook and his tailgating of Graham Gooch’s Test-run record, but Lyth was compact and in command from the off. By the time Cook drove a four to take him past the 32 runs he needed to overtake his mentor, Lyth was just five shy of a maiden Test fifty.
Being present at his captain’s moment of history, not to mention sharing in a 177-run partnership, will do Lyth no harm. Nick Compton aside, Cook has few happy memories of the others who have auditioned to replace Andrew Strauss. In chronological order, they are: Compton, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson, Jonathan Trott and now Lyth, who will be hoping that the wheel of fortune stops at No 6.
The English selectors’ lack of imagination in the Caribbean, plus Trott’s ill-judged return, left Lyth with just these two New Zealand Tests to prove his Ashes mettle. The Yorkshire batting consultant and former England Test player Anthony McGrath had a message for those selectors before this Test: “I hope they say, ‘Here’s seven Tests. We’ve picked you because you’ve been consistent in county cricket, and we’re going to back you’.”
England’s new coach, Trevor Bayliss, will have the final say, but the England hierarchy have no appetite to open with anyone but Cook and Lyth come the First Ashes Test on 8 July. To that end, after leaving Australia’s coach, Darren Lehmann – and Bayliss – none the wiser as to his international credentials following his first Test, Lyth has now given them 107 things to think about.
One of which may well be the use of the short ball as an anti-Lyth weapon of choice. The Kiwi quicks peppered him during a throat-tickling spell that had been encouraged by some unconventional, if dexterous, approaches to bouncer avoidance. Ultimately the 27-year-old rode out the examination, but he will need to demonstrate that dexterity, with added bravery, in the face of the quicker, more menacing, Mitchells, Starc and Johnson, this summer.
Those thoughts, though, are for the future. For now it would be churlish to forbid the glory of the moment to a man whose first-class future was so parlous that, as recently as the start of the last season, he had agreed terms with mid-table Marske CC of the North Yorkshire-South Durham Cricket League.
He is leaving it late but, come the end of the summer, there might just be a memoir in it for Lyth.Reuse content