McGrath's wise head serves Yorkshire well
Yorkshire 61 for 2 dec and 316 for 8 (Jaques 79, McGrath 76*) beat Gloucestershire 215 and 159 for 0 dec by two wickets
Anthony McGrath used all the experience gained over a 17-year career as he guided Yorkshire through a perfectly time, but very tense, run chase to keep them firmly in the mix for County Championship promotion. After the near-miss on Friends Life t20 Finals Day last week this win with two overs to spare was a hugely significant moment - the way their season is remembered could well have hinged on it.
McGrath has been through a lot with Yorkshire; trophies (including a Championship title), relegation, upheaval and rebuilding and has amassed well over 14,000 first-class runs. In 2003 he played Test matches against Zimbabwe and South Africa but there was a thought last year that time was catching up with him. This season he has moved down the batting order to provide ballast to a relatively inexperienced middle order and it was his position at No. 6 that proved so vital on this occasion.
When Phil Jaques fell for a well-compiled 79 there were still 109 runs needed for victory and although the lower order had depth it was fair to say that if McGrath had followed him the game would have been up for Yorkshire.
He finished unbeaten on 76, having offered one life, on 53, when Anthony Ireland put down a return chance. But the main concern for McGrath was running out of partners as Gloucestershire kept chipping away. He started unobtrusively but as time passed he began to accumulate, being especially strong on the leg side off both front and back foot.
Adil Rashid unleashed one sumptuous extra cover drive but was caught behind shortly afterwards. That, though, only brought in Azeem Rafiq whose stature has grown immensely during a season where he captained for a period in the t20. McGrath was full of praise for his young team-mate: "We kept the run rate in check pretty well throughout, and then Azeem came in and we decided he was going to play a few shots and try to get the target down to the teens, which he did really well".
When Rafiq was dismissed for 24 Yorkshire required just two more and one delivery later McGrath finished the job with 16 balls to spare when he cut Liam Nowell to the boundary.
Top-scorer Jaques led the plaudits for McGrath. "He just oozed experience, oozed class, didn't look fussed at any point," he said. "He's invaluable for our team, great for our changing room, and he showed his class today."
When play resumed on the final morning after two washed out days Yorkshire had the options of attempting to bat through the day for a draw and the additional bonus points it would bring, or of coming to an arrangement with Gloucestershire to set a target and going for the much more lucrative win.
Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale negotiated a target of 310 in 84 overs with his Gloucestershire counterpart, a total which to many observers seemed generous. As it turned out it made for a compelling day's cricket, once the shenanigans of the first 25 minutes were over with 10 overs of lobs to Rob Nicol and Benny Howell, and led to a climax which had the crowd gripped. Ironically, the Yorkshire supporters who booed and slow handclapped during this passage of play were also among those cheering at the end.
The way in which Joe Root and Adam Lyth set about launching the chase gave no hint of the anxieties which were to emerge later in the day. Both played with composure and some style, Root in particular impressing with his play through the off side. When, ten minutes before lunch, Lyth was out for 40, falling to an ugly hoik to mid-on off Ireland, it came as a surprise. So too did Root's dismissal when he holed out to square leg off Norwell for 43.
At lunch Jaques was eight not out, and in the afternoon session he built confidently on the start the openers had provided. However, three middle-order wickets fell at the other end, and doubts began to creep into the minds of the crowd. Gale never got going and was held at slip off Jack Taylor's offspin during an impressive spell of 2 for 38 off 18 overs. Taylor's second victim, Gary Ballance, swiped the fourth ball after tea straight to cover for 5, and later Andy Hodd was lbw to Will Gidman but through it all McGrath held steady.
The 19 points Yorkshire took from this match mean that they leapfrog Hampshire into second place. With Kent also winning at Grace Road the last two rounds of matches look tasty. On the face of it, Yorkshire have the easiest run-in of the top four, and in two weeks' time today's events may appear to have been crucial.