Lyth steers Yorkshire to third win in tricky chase
Yorkshire 229 (Bairstow 125, Roland-Jones 4-78) and 215 for 6 (Lyth 67) beat Middlesex 212 (Compton 70, Brooks 5-44) and 229 (Franklin 55*, Rhodes 3-42) by four wickets
Middlesex arrived here as leaders and at times were in the ascendancy but on a pitch that made for a good contest it was arguably merely the number of match-winners in their ranks that ultimately took Yorkshire to a third win from six in an unbeaten start to the season, lifting them to second in the Division One table, level on points with Middlesex and 11 behind Durham.
First there were five wickets for Jack Brooks as Middlesex were dismissed for 212 on the opening day, despite Nick Compton's defiant 70, then Jonny Bairstow's brilliant unbeaten 125 as Yorkshire, in trouble at 96 for 6 in the first over of the second day, somehow scraped a first-innings lead; and, as a low-scoring match moved inevitably towards a finish inside three days, more evidence of the reliability of Adam Lyth, for whom a match in which he fails to make runs in at least one innings has become a rarity.
The newly anointed England opener laid the foundation for Yorkshire's success in chasing down 213 to win by scoring 67, his 18th score of 50 or higher in 37 first-class innings since the start of last season. He looked in such good touch that a 17th career hundred appeared to be his for the taking until Ollie Rayner, the only front-line spinner in the match, found some bounce and turn to induce an edge to slip.
Expansive in his strokeplay but more diligent these days, Lyth provided many a moment to draw appreciative applause from another good crowd here among his 11 boundaries, which will have pleased the England selectors. Not that he needed cheering up, of course, for once. Gary Ballance, too, offered evidence that a return to consistent scoring form is close before Rayner saw him off as well via a stumping.
"That statistic about Adam is no surprise," the Yorkshire coach, Jason Gillespie, said. "I've seen how hard he has worked, at everything about his game, since I have been here.
"He is an exceptional player, that's why he is playing Test cricket. It was tough, the pitch was up and down, but he stuck to his game and set us up nicely for the win."
As is the way of things, Bairstow went from the sublime to a moment he might quickly forget, caught at second slip for a duck off his fifth ball after being shelled at first off his third. At that point Yorkshire still needed 71 and Middlesex were bowling well enough on a pitch still offering something that the possibility of taking six more wickets was not an entirely fanciful proposition. But Yorkshire continued to play positively, Jack Leaning took on Rayner, and Andrew Gale hit an enterprising 37 before, rashly given that there were four overs left and the extra half-hour to come, he went down the pitch to Tim Murtagh and was bowled.
But by then the target was down to 24 and although Glenn Maxwell had been guilty of throwing his own wicket away in the first innings, to his first ball no less, you sensed he would not be impatient a second time. Even so, he won the match with a six, belted down the ground off James Harris, 10 balls after the extra half-hour had been claimed.
Middlesex had given themselves a chance, adding 102 runs in the morning session to their overnight 127 for 4.
Gale's decision to extend Lyth's Monday evening spell at the Football Stand End paid off when the occasional offspinner claimed his first wicket of the season with the fifth delivery of the morning when he had Dawid Malan caught at slip.
John Simpson chopped on to Tim Bresnan as Middlesex suffered another setback, but Rayner's positive attitude, determined that the scoreboard would keep moving, helped he and James Franklin add 47 for the seventh wicket before he was caught at extra cover for 28, having hit five boundaries.
Franklin ended a run of low scores since his hundred in that epic run-chase against Somerset with an unbeaten 55 but it might have been of more value had Rayner's demise not turned out to be start of a tame finish to the innings, in which the last four wickets fell for 23.
Three of those came in the space of 14 balls to Will Rhodes, the 20-year-old seam-bowling allrounder, who was a shade lucky to see the finger raised when he appealed for leg before against James Harris but was nonetheless duly rewarded for an energised spell at the Kirkstall Lane. Ballance took a brilliant one-handed catch at midwicket to remove Roland-Jones before Rhodes splattered Murtagh's stumps for 13.
Gillespie feels Yorkshire are still short of their best, despite being well placed to defend their title. "In this match our bowling discipline was fantastic and I was pleased with the way we kept our positivity throughout," he said. "But I always feel we can do better. The top six have to contribute strongly and we have to make sure we are ruthless with our bowling. I'm pleased with where we are in the table and we are at a good level but still just a little below where we want to be."
The suggestion that there is more to come might sound an ominous note in the ears of some of Yorkshire's rivals, although Franklin took heart from Middlesex's performance.
"We know that they are the benchmark and we gave it a shake, which should put us in good stead for the rest of the season," he said. "There is no point dwelling on the what ifs and maybes. Small moments are sometimes the difference between coming first and second. It was a good cricket wicket, it asked for different skills and I know our guys gave it everything."