Gillespie proud but 'fairytale' eludes Yorks
Yorkshire 210 and 130 for 5 (Ballance 53*) lead Middlesex 128 by 212 runs
Geoffrey Boycott's exhortation to Yorkshire to win the Championship in their 150th anniversary season has not come to pass, but even such a hard taskmaster as Boycott must conclude that their first season back in Division One has been a successful one. Or at least he will when, as seems inevitable, they complete a decent campaign by securing the runners-up spot.
Jason Gillespie, Yorkshire's coach, suggested on the day Durham won the title that second place, all things considered, would be a satisfactory end. To be absolutely certain of that they first have to avoid defeat against Middlesex and a brisk unbeaten half-century by Gary Ballance - guiding them to a lead of 212 runs with five wickets and a day remaining - took them closer to their goal. This pitch has plenty in it for the seam bowlers and it is not likely to change character.
Things did not always look quite as secure for Yorkshire. Minutes after Gillespie had delivered his verdict that Yorkshire's season had been "a fantastic achievement" they subsided to 50 for 4, only 132 ahead. It had potential for embarrassment and Adam Lyth, lbw to Corey Collymore, and Jonny Bairstow, bowled through the gate when the same bowler produced a decent nip-backer, fell in familiar fashion.
Bairstow will come under prolonged discussion when England's selectors meet to determine an Ashes party that will be announced at Lord's on Monday. He has averaged around 30 since returning to Yorkshire's Championship side after a less-than-satisfying Ashes series. He faces challenges primarily from Ravi Bopara as a batsman and Jos Buttler as a stand-by wicketkeeper. Nothing is certain.
Ballance is also regarded by some as an outsider for England's Ashes squad and it was Ballance who remedied Yorkshire's position in an adventurous stand of 79 in 16 overs with Andrew Gale. If Ollie Rayner had held a chance at second slip off Tim Murtagh when Ballance was 12 and Yorkshire's lead 153, Middlesex's hopes of victory might have stirred.
As it was, Gillespie's words remained persuasive. "It would have been a fairytale had we got promoted and then gone on to win the title," he said. "I think coming second is a real goal for us and if we can manage to do that at the end of this game then that would be a fantastic achievement for our players.
"We'd love to be still challenging to win the County Championship but when you look at it when it's all said and done, a team has been crowned who have won 10 out of 15 Championship games this season and all you can do is take your hat off to them. It's an incredible effort and they deserve all the plaudits and praise that comes their way.
"From our point of view it's disappointing but we had our opportunities this year to still be in the hunt. Durham completely outplayed us at Scarborough and if we'd managed to win that, or at least save that game, we may have still found ourselves with an opportunity now but that's not to be and all we can do is congratulate Durham."
Gillespie tweeted his congratulations to Durham and he was quick to expand on that praise. "I think Paul Collingwood is the sort of character that knows how to win. It's interesting that he's got a good young team there and some incredibly talented lads. Ben Stokes and Scott Borthwick are two lads, in particular, who have impressed me a lot, having not seen much of them before.
"I can completely understand why they have been on England's radar in the last couple of years and from what I've seen they are two very impressive cricketers and I fully expect them to play a big part in England's future in the next decade."
Gillespie sounded anxious for Yorkshire to secure a deal with Kane Williamson, the New Zealand batsman, as an overseas player next summer. Williamson's arrival might have coincided with Yorkshire's loss of impetus, but he has been a model of consistency.
"He has been a wonderful addition to our squad," he said. "We will see what happens next year. He is happy here and we've been delighted with the way he has gone. We will have discussions with him and if he wants to do what we want to do, we will try and make that happen.
"He's a great young lad who we respect highly and in his short time at the club he has made a real impact. It is obvious what sort of player he is and maybe someone who can fulfil a really important role for us."
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo