Matthew Fisher four-for a tonic for Yorkshire – but they’re not safe yet

Yorkshire 80 for 3 (Lyth 44) trail Gloucestershire (Bracey 71, Fisher 4-45) by xx runs

The definition of optimism, as far as Yorkshire cricket is concerned, has been to gaze upon Matthew Fisher in full flow and say: “This time will be the one, this time the injuries will relent and finally an England bowler will arrive among us.”

Fisher has brought delight to the start and end of the Championship season with Gloucestershire the unfortunate victims on both occasions. The rest has been a familiar tale of MRI scans, rest and rehabilitation. He is 24 now, a fast-medium bowler whose time has come if only his body is up to the test.

At Headingley, in the last week of the season, he has returned, and book-ended his summer with 4 for 45. In his ability to draw bounce and movement from the surface, he was in a different league from any other bowler on view, even though he is limited to a strict number of overs in the game. Little more evidence will be needed for England to show interest again although, even as his return is celebrated, there will be worried looks at the slightest stretch or grimace.

Yorkshire are used to their best young players being requisitioned by England. Fisher just fits the pattern. His injuries certainly have little to do with over-bowling as Yorkshire have obsessively protected him for a decade and he has still bowled fewer than 1000 overs across all formats since his county debut, as a 15-year-old, when he became their youngest post-war cricketer.

Fisher’s return was an uplifting sight for Yorkshire, who are in a terrible run of five defeats in seven and who began the match still needing ten points to assure themselves of safety in the event that Warwickshire, who are second bottom, take maximum points from Hampshire’s visit to Edgbaston. In the last fortnight, after months of rehab, he has taken six wickets in a Roses second-team game and captained them to the 2nd XI Championship title.

All his wickets came in a devastating second spell of five overs from the Kirkstall Lane End. Ben Charlesworth and Miles Hammond nicked balls that seamed away, Chris Dent – a third left-hander in the sequence – dragged on trying to cover for such movement, and Ollie Price also fell in the slip cordon. Fisher was awarded his county cap before start of play. He is not the first to receive an England cap before a Yorkshire cap – they take pride in such oddities. Jonny Tattersall was similarly honoured, a reward for a dogged refusal to let his career fade away.

“It’s incredible that there’s more people who’ve played for England than there’s been caps for Yorkshire,” Fisher said. “I feel like I bowled wicket balls today rather than being consistent around an area. Being ultra-critical, we could have bowled them out for 150. But we’ll take it.”

Yorkshire are fielding the seam attack they envisaged at the start of the season with Ben Coad also fit once more. This is also a farewell for Steve Patterson, who has not been re-engaged, at 37, but whose return of 13-6-18-1 was another exemplary effort by a captain who has had to hold things together during one of the most controversial periods in Yorkshire’s history and who has done so with great diplomacy. He believes he is worthy of another contract and 36 wickets at 27s and a miserly economy rate of 2.40 does rather support his case, even if his speed is not about to excite a motorway speed camera. He deserves a better send-off than he is likely to receive in chill September weather from what on the first day was a markedly thin crowd.

Yorkshire already have the bonus points they need in their attempts to secure a place in Division One, meaning a draw would now be more than enough, but draw pitches are a rarity in September if the weather stays fine and, even though Gloucestershire are already relegated, relegated sides do have the habit of playing relaxed cricket. Their mood was illustrated an hour or so before play when James Bracey and Hammond re-enacted on the Headingley square the final moments of England’s Ashes victory in 2019, not just Ben Stokes’ winning shot but Jack Leach’s drying of his spectacles.

Such dramatics certainly appeared to work for Bracey, who produced one of his best innings since he began the season with back-to-back hundreds against Northamptonshire, 71 from 112 balls at which point George Hill had him caught at the wicket off an inside edge. Hammond made nought. That’s showbusiness.

Yorkshire are far from safe from relegation yet, and that is bound to add to their frustration over Adam Lyth’s dismissal from what became the last ball of the day – a classic case of “whoops, we’d better get off for light before any more wickets fall”. The umpires had been studying their light meters when Tom Price, who took the season’s best figures against Warwickshire last week, made one snort off a length to have Lyth caught at third slip.

A long batting tail will add to their unease. Finlay Bean is absent with a finger injury and his replacement, James Wharton made a 27-ball duck which also included a reprieve against Ajeet Singh Dale when an edge was ruled to have fallen short of first slip; Singh got his man, lbw. George Hill has been one of Yorkshire’s most improved players, but his foot-fast drive at a wide one from David Payne was out of character for him, and beyond belief for a Yorkshire side trying to stave off relegation.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps


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