THE Jason Gillespie farewell tour started in Southampton yesterday, two days after it was announced that the Yorkshire first team coach is to leave the club at the end of the season.
One half-expected to see T-shirts on sale to that effect, along with the usual scorecards, as the crowd arrived at the Ageas Bowl.
While Yorkshire are keen to draw a line under Gillespie’s departure, insisting they want to focus solely on their remaining four Championship games, it is inevitable that the issue will bubble in the background.
The Australian spent the day looking down from the dressing room balcony in trademark blue tracksuit and reflective sunglasses, as the champions continued their quest for a hat-trick of titles that would give him the perfect send-off.
The opening date of the farewell tour, however, was not one on which Yorkshire always hit the right notes.
They closed day one on 275-9 after choosing to bat, a total which was by no means poor given that the ball moved around beneath mainly cloudy skies, but which was not totally convincing either given that there were a number of soft dismissals and starts for several players who failed to go on.
It was, in many ways, a curious day: Yorkshire, at one stage 57-3, recovered to 216-5 and then fell to 234-9 before Jack Brooks and Ryan Sidebottom combined in a last-wicket stand of 41 before bad light ended play with 11 overs left.
However, given that Yorkshire are second in the table, and Hampshire second-bottom, and with the champions’ strength residing in their bowling, it felt as though Yorkshire have their noses in front.
“To get to 275 after losing a few wickets in clumps was a pretty decent effort,” said Gillespie, who is returning to Australia at the end of the season.
“There were a couple of indifferent shots, if we’re being totally honest, and also a couple of cracking deliveries.
“There’s a little bit there for the bowlers if you bowl a good line and length, so we’re hoping that if we can add to what we’ve got now and push on towards 300, and then get bowling our lines and lengths, we should make it tough work. Brooksy and Siddy put on some vital runs there at the end, and, with runs on the board, we’re massively in the game.”
Yorkshire were architects of their own difficulties in a morning session that belonged to Hampshire.
Adam Lyth and Alex Lees looked in little trouble before Lees fell to the penultimate delivery of the 10th over, reaching for a drive off Brad Wheal that flew to Will Smith at backward-point.
Smith took an even better catch in the same position to get rid of Lyth off Ryan McLaren, the fielder pulling off a spectacular one-handed effort after Lyth cracked a fierce cut.
Gary Ballance was twice dropped by James Vince at third slip before being smartly caught by wicketkeeper Lewis McManus, moving to his left off Gareth Berg, which left Yorkshire 57-3 in the 21st over.
As so often happens, however, Yorkshire rallied after losing early wickets.
Jake Lehmann added 62 in 16 overs with his captain, Andrew Gale, who chipped in with 26 before playing back to a rising delivery from McLaren that claimed the edge.
Lehmann played stand-and-deliver cricket on his way to 58 from 73 balls with 10 fours, his maiden County Championship half-century, and it took a terrific catch to get rid of him by Jimmy Adams, who flew to his left at second slip after Berg got the edge.
Berg, the former Middlesex all-rounder, seemed hell-bent on doing his former county a favour, with Middlesex going into this round of games just five points ahead of Yorkshire at the top.
After Tim Bresnan and Andrew Hodd added 73 for the sixth-wicket in 25 overs, Berg swung the pendulum back in Hampshire’s favour with three wickets in eight balls just after tea.
Bresnan had his leg stump knocked back after a fighting 56 from 113 balls, Hodd also had his stumps disturbed, and Azeem Rafiq was the victim of a devilish delivery and a catch behind.
When Mason Crane, the 19-year-old leg-spinner, got in on the act by having Steve Patterson caught from a prod to short-leg, Yorkshire were nine-down with only one point in the bag.
However, an unbeaten 29 from Brooks, who not for the first time displayed genuine batting prowess, and an undefeated eight from Sidebottom secured a second point and kept Hampshire at bay.
“Brooksy keeps trying to get up the order and is always hounding me that he should be batting higher,” said Gillespie.
“He played nice and positive, and that stand with Siddy could prove to be really important as the match wears on.”