First of all apologies for the delay in reporting the rather complex and controversial end to the county championship season. Family comes first and with my two grandsons celebrating their eighth and thirteenth birthdays respectively on the 16th and 24th September I was involved in two trips to Paris, with three and a half days at Lord's in the middle.
Despite all the pre-match conspiracy theories which robbed Yorkshire of Root and Bairstow due to ECB rulings (surely not Andrew Strauss alone), Rashid at his own request, for which he was pilloried by many including Michael Vaughan without knowing the full facts, and finally Jake Lehmann, recalled by South Australia, Yorkshire fielded a team fully capable of winning the match.I had seen the last two season's games between these teams at Lord's and was determined not to miss the third, something rather special always seems to happen.
John Winn has described the events of day one when we met briefly behind the pavilion, hardly recognising him wearing a tie! Gubbins was without doubt the Middlesex hero of the day, but little mention was made of the number of times he played and missed, particularly against the admirable Sidebottom. It reminded me of a century scored by former Middlesex man Ben Hutton at Scarborough some years ago when he never looked really in. Perhaps something to do with them both being pupils at Radley School (along with a certain Mr Strauss). The early finish due to bad light, which was hardly any different than when the match started, and the fact that floodlights are not allowed for county championship matches at Lord's added to the conspiracy theories.
Yorkshire must have been relieved when Bresnan had Gubbins caught at slip by Lyth early on day two but Franklin the captain, a very useful man coming in at number seven, held firm and his innings of 48 was a valuable contribution. Brooks finished off the tail and Yorkshire were probably happy with a score of 270 against them.
Things soon took another direction when Toby Roland-Jones no less (you don't get many Tobys in the north of England) ripped the early Yorkshire batting to shreds. All the more painful when you consider that both he and Gubbins were students at Leeds University and polished their considerable abilities with Leeds/Bradford MCCU at my home ground of Weetwood. Having picked only four specialist batsman, three of them in Lees, Ballance and Gale, all went for nought. 32-3 in no time, with only Lyth looking at all confident. When he went for 43, bowled by Finn, it was 53-4 and the many Yorkshire supporters on the ground in despair.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. That man being Tim Bresnan whose batting has really blossomed in recent seasons, his huge partnership with Bairstow at Durham last season being particularly admirable. He played carefully without taking risks and helped by Hodd, the wicketkeeper, who just missed a century at Scarborough recently, the two of them put on 116 runs before Hodd was lbw to Roland-Jones. Azeem Rafiq stayed with Bresnan until the close of day two when Yorkshire were 235-6, with Bresnan looking impregnable on 72 not out.
Bresnan celebrates his century
Day three began with Yorkshire needing to get to 350 to overtake Somerset's bonus points and to have any chance left of winning the championship. This seemed a very tall order when Rafiq was bowled by Murtagh for a fine 65 and soon followed by Patterson and Brooks. So 334-9 when last man Sidebottom joined Bresnan. The runs came in singles until bad light followed by rain took the players off for an hour with only one run of Yorkshire's target still required. Even the Almighty seemed to be conspiring against them.
On the resumption the vital run was scored by the veteran Sidebottom with a boundary to great relief among the Yorkshire players and supporters. The win was still possible. When Sidebottom was finally out for 20, Yorkshire had made an amazing score of 390, a lead of 120, and Bresnan 142 not out had played the innings of a lifetime and received a well deserved standing ovation from the large crowd.
The excitement was not over as the Middlesex second innings began with Robson out for nought, caught at slip by Lees of Sidebottom (his first wicket of the match) and then Nick Compton bowled by Brooks for one. Middlesex 2-2 and Yorkshire looked to be in sight of the championship. However, Gubbins yet again and Malan buckled down and safely saw Middlesex to the close on 81-2. Most onlookers could not envisage a Middlesex victory from this position and an early break through by Yorkshire tomorrow should bring them the title. The only alternative seemed to be a drawn game in which case Somerset would be champions.
On day four in perfect sunny conditions for the final day of this enthralling game Gubbins, batting with greater authority than in the first innings, and Malan batted throughout the morning session before Gubbins was surprisingly out for 93 caught and bowled by Rafiq. Malan went on to his century and Yorkshire looked to be running out of steam and ideas. At this point in the early afternoon I had to take my leave to catch my train back to Paris.
Time for me to leave!
I was unaware of the final stages of the game, the joke bowling, the declaration by Middlesex, Yorkshire's run chase and Roland-Jones hat-trick to finish the game and give Middlesex the title, until my train emerged from the Channel Tunnel and I received the final news, speeding across northern France, with a headline on my phone - Sidebottom bowled by Roland-Jones, Middlesex champions!
The subsequent debate started with e-mails from many of my cricket watching friends decrying the events of the fourth afternoon, fears for the future of county cricket, the loss of the spirit of cricket, Somerset were robbed and so on. For once the letters page of the Yorkshire Post had everyone in agreement that this was not a good thing and should not be allowed, almost the end of cricket as we know and love it.
My own reaction was slightly more mellow. While condemning the joke bowling, the situation was unique, the teams at Lord's had to achieve a result otherwise a draw would have handed the championship to Somerset. Sympathies to them, the perennial runners up who had beaten Yorkshire so soundly at Headingley last week. The two captains had really no option. A result was achieved and Middlesex, who have been the outstanding county side of the season, particularly their victories over Yorkshire at Scarborough and Somerset at Taunton, are worthy champions. Congratulations to them and to both teams for the three and a half days that I saw which will live with me for a long time.