By Gary Watton
September 20 2016
In spite of a brilliant batting performance from Tim Bresnan, ably assisted by important cameos from Hodd and Rafiq, Yorkshire's attempt to achieve a rare hat trick of County Championships was foiled on the final hour of the season by our nemesis Toby Roland-Jones who rounded off the season by taking a hat trick of Tyke wickets. Young Roland-Jones, a far more potent bowler than the hyped Finn, finished off the drama by bowling both Hodd and Sidebottom, to finish with match figures of ten wickets, at a cost of 127 runs. Nick Gubbins was also a major thorn in the Yorkshire flesh, acccumulating a priceless total of 218 runs. In fact, without the contribution of Gubbins, the hosts' first innings would have subsided, although more dropped catches from the white rose enabled Middlesex to get out of jail.
The match meandered along for two and a half days, with Yorkshire taking the ascendancy and defying the odds to reach 350 and that vital fourth batting point that kept their hopes of a title defence alive until the final hour. Elsewhere, in-form Somerset were making light work of basement strugglers Nottinghamshire, and an elusive County Championship was within their grasp, if Middlesex and Yorkshire failed to win on the final afternoon.
In the event, Middlesex overcame the handicap of being two for the loss of Robson and Compton, to bounce back and take the lead. However, it took a dubious collaboration from both captains to engineer a situation whereby the visitors would be tempted with a run chase, whilst the home team would have the opportunity to capitalise if the run chase proved too hot to handle.
So it came to pass. Lees and Lyth made a fine start in the first five overs which suggested that the required 240 off forty overs was there for the taking. Kieswetter and Trego of Somerset tweeted their disapproval of this rigged declaration which initially looked like an early Christmas present for Yorkshire. However, for all their one-day prowess, the Tykes are not masters at run chases, and one by one, the wheels came off their challenge, as the pendulum truly swung in favour of Middlesex. In the end, Somerset's contingent were left cursing the controversial but perfectly legitimate bout of buffet bowling followed by a declaration, while Yorkshire felt the pain of a Championship defence finally slipping from their grasp.
Middlesex plucked a first County Championship since 1993 out of the grasp of their two rivals. It was nothing if not an extraordinary finale to a peculiar summer of rain-interrupted draws. However, league tables do not lie. The cream always rises to the top. Yorkshire, burdened with a frequently misfiring top order, are now merely the third best team in English county cricket. That's not a bad bragging right by any means, but after the success of the last two years, it's a sobering end to the otherwise hugely successful Gillespie era. There will need to be a drastic overhaul of batting personnel, as the county is handicapped by England call-ups and overseas players who make fleeting visits, before they too are whisked off to other engagements. Continuity in an overseas signing is called for, while serious questions need to be asked about the value of Gale as a batsman, and whether we can persist with Leaning and Rhodes.
Can Yorkshire come back stronger, or is the squad so lop-sided now that relegation might be more of an issue next summer than challenging for silverware?
Middlesex versus YORKSHIRE; in London; September 20th to the 23rd; Middlesex won the toss.
Middlesex first innings: 270 (Gubbins 125; Brooks 6-65, Bresnan 3-48)
YORKSHIRE first innings: 390 (Bresnan 142*, Rafiq 65, Hodd 64; Roland-Jones 4-73, Murtagh 3-96)
Middlesex second innings: 359 for six declared (Malan 116, Gubbins 93, Eskinazi 78*)
YORKSHIRE second innings: 178 (Bresnan 55; Roland-Jones 6-54)
Middlesex win by 61 runs and win the County Championship. Somerset finish second, and YORKSHIRE finish third. Middlesex 21 points, YORKSHIRE seven points.
Lyth - His forty-three in the first innings was useful and he weighed in with three catches. However, his second innings' effort of thirteen was sadly too brief.
Lees - His duck egg and twenty in the second innings were so typical of his end of season vanishing act. He did however take two wickets, costing fifty-one runs!
Ballance - Another duck egg producer, he threatened to atone for this on the final afternoon, but his innings of thirty was again short of the mark.
Gale - The captain twice succumbed to the dastardly Roland-Jones, failing to trouble the scorer and then chipping in with twenty-two ultimately inadequate runs.
Bresnan - Tim didn't deserve to be on the losing team and deserved a Championship winner's medal. His first innings knock justified his promotion to bat at five.
Hodd - Hoddy was another victim of two Roland-Jones dismissals. He did at least record a vital 64, sharing a match-turning partnership of 116 with Brezza.
Willey - Dave produced knocks of twenty-two and a disappointing eleven, being twice undone by Murtagh. He really shouldn't have been preferred to Plunkett.
Rafiq - Azeem provided 65 runs to a crucial 114-run partnership with Bresnan that gave the visitors hope. He remains much less effective as a spin bowler.
Patterson - Thirteen match runs was inadequate and he twice made Finn look good. He bowled 31 overs for only seventy-two runs, but failed to take a wicket.
Brooks - Jack didn't deserve to be on the losing team. His match figures of seven wickets, for a cost of 113 runs, included humiliating Nick Compton twice!
Sidebottom - RS bowled thirty-five excellent overs, costing only 65 runs. However, he only had the wicket of Robson to show for his efforts. He deserved better.
BATSMAN CHARTS (minimum of one hundred runs)
Bairstow: average - 88.83; 533 runs; two hundreds
Root: average - 80; 240 runs; one hundred
Lehmann: average - 54.86; 384 runs; one century, two fifties
Bresnan: average - 48.13; 722 runs; one century, five fifties
Plunkett: average - 44.9; 449 runs; one hundred, three fifties
Lyth: average - 40.46; 1133 runs; four hundreds, three fifties
Lees: average - 40.17; 1165 runs; three hundreds, seven fifties
BEST BOWLERS (minimum of ten wickets)
Sidebottom: average - 21.19; 31 wickets
Brooks: average - 25.02; sixty wickets
Patterson: average - 29.38; 39 wickets
Bresnan: average - 30.13; 31 wickets
Rashid: average - 33.84; thirty-two wickets