If Yorkshire are strong, runs the old maxim, England are strong. The county are renascent this season and yesterday at their historic old ground, the second Test against New Zealand was illuminated by two of their new sons.
Joe Root, born in Sheffield and made of its finest steel, fashioned a maiden century of consummate authority which made it easy to assume that he will be around for a decade and more. His colleague Jonny Bairstow, from Bradford where they are scarcely less resilient, hit the ball more fiercely than any other batsman and should keep him company most of that time.
Together they rescued England from the perils of 146 for 4 and took them to much higher ground. To the delight of their home crowd, which seemed to grow with the partnership, the pair put on 124 for the fifth wicket. They were both out, disappointingly, in full, glorious flow. England finished on 337 for 7 and the Investec series has not yet quite slipped out of sight for New Zealand, though they will need to stop Matt Prior's gallop extremely soon.
The northern alliance was stirring stuff both because of the batsmen involved and the ground on which they were playing. Root's hundred was accorded a reception fit for a conquering hero.
The last Yorkshireman to make a hundred on his first Test appearance at Headingley was Len Hutton in 1947, but this was the first time a Yorkshireman had made his first Test hundred on the ground. It was probably the most celebrated century here since Geoff Boycott's hundredth hundred in 1977.
Root reached it with his 10th four to his 156th ball, a delicate late cut through the vacant second slip area. He responded with an emotion that he has rarely shown, punching the air with his right hand, smiling broadly and being embraced by his pal.
His star has risen stratospherically. Chosen for England's tour of India based as much on the selectors' hunch or wisdom – call it what you will – as last season's form he was eventually picked in the team for the last Test. Making an assured 73 then, he has never looked back.
This was his fourth hundred of the summer and it was a surprise when he was out immediately to the second new ball, swishing outside the off stump. He was annoyed with himself as he had been last week at Lord's when a tired defensive stroke on 71 deprived him of a hundred. When Bairstow was out shortly afterwards, also caught behind when trying to withdraw his bat, England's vibrant progress was halted. But there was a freedom and spirit about the pair's batting which was a joy to behold.
Since first breaking into the England side last winter for their final Test in India Root has looked completely at home. Here he looked to be the owner of the house.
Where senior colleagues earlier seemed diffident and apprehensive, Root was fluent and assured. He trusted his instincts and the pitch. For a period shortly after he came in New Zealand were sufficiently in control of the match to post four slips and two gullies, long before he reached his landmark there was not a single man in the cordon and they were reduced a ring on the off side.
Root plays the ball late, has shots all round the wicket and is deeply reluctant to let the bowler dictate terms. The cover drive is one of his best friends but he is a modern player as well as one with a trustworthy method and he was unafraid to unveil the reverse sweep.
When he and Bairstow were in unison they never let New Zealand settle. They ran singles hard, they looked to rotate the strike in a way that had not been done earlier. Without them, England would have been deep in the mire.
Despite the relentless rain which had caused the abandonment of the first day, the pitch was dry and true. When Alastair Cook won the toss it was an obvious option to bat, though Brendon McCullum would have bowled in any case having picked four seam bowlers.
England should have been the more satisfied but there is a wariness about their batting at present. It is as if they have other matters on their mind (though obviously, if this is the Ashes, not on their lips since they are discouraged from talking about their assignment later in the year).
The first wicket to fall, almost inevitably, was that of Nick Compton. He received a good ball from Tim Southee, one which moved away late, but he went at it hard when he might not have gone at it at all. In view of what happened later Compton might have seen his dreams of facing Australia fade a little further.
On the stroke of lunch both Cook and Jonathan Trott were gone. Trott played an uncharacteristically reckless drive – his third of the innings – against Neil Wagner and to the next ball, the first of the last over before lunch, Cook rather sloppily edged Doug Bracewell to the slips.
All this was worrying for England not only in this match but in view of what is to come. This state of affairs was only embellished by Ian Bell who was never composed and suffered badly by comparison with Root. He was out badly, playing a wishy-washy shot to Kane Williamson from the crease, neither back nor forward, neither defending nor attacking and looking the worse for the dual misdemeanour.
England won toss
England: First innings
*A N Cook c Brownlie b Bracewell 34/0/6/81
N R D Compton c Brownlie b Southee 1/0/0/11
I J L Trott c McCullum b Wagner 28/0/6/60
I R Bell c McCullum b Williamson 30/0/5/73
J E Root c McCullum b Boult 104/0/9/167
J M Bairstow c McCullum b Boult 64/0/7/44
†M J Prior not out 38/0/3/30
S C J Broad c McCullum b Boult 0/0/0/2
G P Swann not out 21/0/2/28
Extras (b5, lb7, w4, nb1) 17
Total (for 7, 94 overs) 337
Fall 1-11, 2-67, 3-67, 4-146, 5-270, 6-279, 7-286.
Still to bat S T Finn, J M Anderson.
Bowling T A Boult 19-4-48-3, T G Southee 24-6-72-1, N Wagner 23-4-73-1, D A J Bracewell 19-3-83-1, K S Williamson 9-0-49-1.
Umpires S J Davis (Aus) and M Erasmus (SA).
TV Umpire Aleem Dar (Pak).
Match referee D C Boon (Aus)Reuse content