This final round of the County Championship promised to be something special and boy, has it delivered. Day Three was packed with more twists and turns than a Darcey Bussell ballet routine and, at its conclusion, Yorkshire enter the final act with their noses ever so slightly in front.
The title battle in this final round has always been split across two parts of the British Isles, with eyes flicking relentlessly between the two. At Lord’s – cricket’s mighty Coliseum, the two leading protagonists are slugging it out while over at Taunton, one of county cricket’s most majestic outposts, Somerset have been waiting in the wings, preparing to sneak up on the rails to clinch the crown.
In truth, Somerset didn’t so much sneak as roar over the line. Barring that major collapse on the first day, they dismissed already-condemned Nottinghamshire with clinical ease. A 325-run victory was concluded just after 5pm on the third day and Somerset had climbed the mountain to sit top of the table.
But those pesky chaps from Yorkshire had to have their say in things. The reigning champions – bidding for a third-straight title – produced a sensational rear-guard effort to keep themselves in the mix.
They knew that if they could reach 350, and that extra batting bonus point, they would keep their title hopes alive as victory would then edge them ahead of Somerset. When wickets eight and nine, Steven Patterson and Jack Brooks fell in successive overs, the White Rose were 334-9 – leaving their title hopes in the hands of the veteran Ryan Sidebottom.
Such are the nuances of this thrilling title race, it actually rather suited Middlesex to allow Yorkshire to get to 350 – keeping their rivals in the race may have increased their own chances of a win to stave off the lurking Somerset threat.
It was a tension-filled period as Sidebottom and centurion Tim Bresnan edged their way towards the target. They reached 349 when, yes, it started raining. You couldn’t make it up! Off they came, the drama raised another notch.
Upon resumption, Yorkshire did it. They had made it to 350, securing the point that they so badly craved. Over at Taunton, despite his sides imminent victory, Chris Rogers’ cup of tea would have tasted that little more bitter.
But Somerset knew that their victory, coupled with a draw at Lord’s would secure a first title in the club’s history. Middlesex and Yorkshire both knew that a winner at the home of cricket would be champions.
Cue the Yorkshire charge. Having passed 350, did the last pair just hand over the baton? Did they heck as like! On and on they went, Bresnan ploughing forward in his longest ever innings to make a mighty 142 not out. Even Sidebottom added 23, as Yorkshire finished on 390 – a lead of 120.
Middlesex, who were in command of the title race before day three began, were seeing their chances of a first title since 1993 go up in smoke. They needed a strong batting performance to drag themselves back into contention.
Enter Sam Robson, here playing the part of the hapless hero. Usually so consistent, so important to Middlesex, when his side needed him to deliver the most he bagged a pair. Sidebottom again made his mark on proceedings, leaving Middlesex 1-1.
Up on the Lord’s balcony, Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie punched the air with the look of a man with his nostrils full of the scent of blood. When 1-1 became 2-2, as Jack Brooks bowled Nick Compton, the title race had swung entirely in Yorkshire’s favour.
At Lord’s, one imagined the champagne glasses being smashed in anger – at Taunton, the cider being thrown down in frustration. Yorkshire in charge again, a familiar Championship tale.
Credit though to Middlesex, on this most disappointing of days it would have been easy to fold. But in Nick Gubbins they have a man at the peak of his powers. He combined with Dawid Malan, to halt the Yorkshire surge and to see the hosts through to the close on 81-2, trailing by 39.
But, oh what a day! The greatest advert for Championship cricket you could imagine, and there’s more to come. Somerset could have done no more. They will watch on, possibly performing the odd impromptu rain dance as they will the Lord’s showdown to end in a stalemate.
Middlesex and Yorkshire will do battle again, for one more day, each side with Abba’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’ ringing endlessly in their ears. Chance for glory awaits, for those who can seize their moment.