Alex Lees stands tall before lower order comes to Yorkshire CCC's rescue again
BY his own admission, Alex Lees did not have a good time of it in 2015.
The Yorkshire opening batsman scored 795 County Championship runs at an average of 33.12, some way down on his return of 971 at 44.13 the previous year.
Lees felt that he had been crouching in his stance, instead of standing tall and bullying bowlers as he did previously, and confessed to mental tiredness after two-and-a-half years of constant cricket.
Now refreshed after a winter break, and recently installed as Yorkshire’s one-day captain, Lees is chomping at the bit to prove why, aged 22, he is considered one of England’s top young batting prospects.
That enthusiasm got off to something of a false start on day one at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, where Lees was trapped for a second-ball duck by MCC pace bowler Jake Ball in the traditional curtain-raiser to the English campaign.
It was a decent delivery, and Lees could console himself with the fact that such failures can happen to anybody in their first innings of a new season.
Lees’s determination to make amends not only in this game – but primarily for what he perceived as a poor summer last year – was certainly evident yesterday when he top-scored with a fine 86.
It was his highest innings since he made exactly 100 against Notts at Trent Bridge 11 months ago, and it helped Yorkshire to 239-7 on day three after the champions had conceded a first innings lead of 24.
Lees’s performance, in which he faced 157 balls and hit seven fours and a six, was a personal triumph and repeated the pattern of Yorkshire’s first innings, when only one of the top-six batsmen managed a score.
On Sunday, it was Gary Ballance who contributed 105 from No 3, with Andrew Gale’s 23 the next-best effort of the top-order players.
Exactly the same thing happened yesterday, when Gale also made 23 and when Yorkshire were again indebted to their lower middle-order for getting them out of trouble, something that happened often last season as the club secured back-to-back County Championships.
When Tim Bresnan was sixth out at 147, Yorkshire’s lead stood at just 123 and MCC would have expected to have embarked on a manageable run-chase by stumps.
As it was, No 7 batsman Will Rhodes (for the second time in the match) and No 8 Andrew Hodd combined in a stand of 80 for the seventh-wicket that has left the game on the proverbial knife-edge.
Hodd made 44, and Rhodes will resume on 41 after contributing 95 in the first innings, his career-best score.
“It’s anybody’s game,” was the verdict of Yorkshire’s director of cricket Martyn Moxon, who was delighted with the character displayed by 21-year-old Rhodes.
It was certainly another fluctuating day in the desert, where Yorkshire not only ended well but started well, too.
MCC resumed on 282-6, a lead of seven, but rather threw away the chance to grab the game by the scruff of the neck as they lost their last four wickets for 17 runs in 37 balls.
Ben Foakes, Ball and Graham Onions all fell trying to hammer the left-arm spin of Karl Carver, who finished with an encouraging career-best return of 4-106, with Foakes’s 91 the highest score on the MCC card.
Bresnan captured the other wicket – what proved to be the 450th of his first-class career – when he trapped Rikki Clarke leg before for 58, finishing with encouraging figures of his own in the shape of 4-58.
It has not been a memorable match for Adam Lyth, who made a hundred against the MCC last year, and who fell for seven yesterday when he went lbw to James Tredwell.
Ballance managed nine before losing his off-stump to James Harris, and Gale went lbw trying to sweep Samit Patel.
Jack Leaning was caught at slip off Tredwell, who also had Bresnan held at mid-off by Harris.
Lees missed out on a hundred when he was bowled by a good one from Patel, and Yorkshire did not find it particularly easy against the spinners.
As was the case last year, however, when Rhodes and Hodd shared a stand of 104 that ultimately helped Yorkshire to a nine-wicket win over the MCC, the pair rode to the rescue in what is fast becoming typical Yorkshire fashion.
Hodd fell lbw to Ball just before stumps, but if Yorkshire can extend their lead of 215 much beyond 250, then it should prove tough for their opponents to chase – assuming that it is not tough already.
Either way, the game has produced some excellent entertainment for the 70 or so Yorkshire supporters present, not to mention much useful practice ahead of the forthcoming Championship season.