Middlesex rally after Middlebrook strikes
Middlesex 106 and 274 for 5 (Compton 86*, Franklin 60*, Robson 53) lead Yorkshire 299 by 81 runs
Of the 21 players involved in Yorkshire's Championship success, none is more unlikely than James Middlebrook. His summer began playing club cricket in the Bradford League, planning for a second career as an umpire. It has ended with him playing a quietly critical part in the first Yorkshire side to retain the title since 1968.
There is no more heartwarming tale in the county game this year than that of Middlebrook. Unwanted by the worst county in Division One in 2014, he has made a triumphant return to Yorkshire after 14 years away. He is the accidental Championship winner.
"If you'd said to me 12 months ago you're going to win the Championship with your beloved Yorkshire I'd have taken that every time," he said, revelling even more in the accolade coming at Lord's. "I never thought I'd play at this ground ever again. To play with a few old mates, and some young mates, is a dream come true for any cricketer never mind winning the Championship."
Despite playing every game in 2014, Middlebrook was released by Northamptonshire last season. "It was disappointing. I thought I'd done enough." A phone call after Adil Rashid was called up to England's Test tour of the Caribbean set Middlebrook on a remarkable journey towards helping Yorkshire retain the Championship.
"Andrew Gale gave me a ring and asked if I was interested in playing a one-off game for Yorkshire. Since Adil's obviously done very well in the ODI series they've kept making me come out of retirement," Middlebrook said.
With good reason. Into his fifth Championship game of 2015, Middlebrook now has 14 wickets at 20.42 apiece. That his success has come at his home county makes it even sweeter. Middlebrook has a deep connection with the club: his father, a renowned local coach, worked with a young Geoff Boycott. Middlebrook is fully aware of what a privilege it is to represent Yorkshire.
"I've grown up with Ryan Sidebottom since I was six years old so to play back with him is a special moment. Just to play for Yorkshire and put on the White Rose is very special. You can't really describe playing for your home county," he said. While Middlebrook served both Essex and Northants with distinction, "you are under more pressure because you are playing for Yorkshire".
When Yorkshire ended their 33-year wait for the County Championship in 2001, the experience was tinged with disappointment for Middlebrook. In four first-class games he mustered just five wickets at 53.00, and was released after the end of the season. Even though he has not been a full-time cricketer, playing on a game-by-game basis until June and then on a retainer that permits him to work towards being a professional umpire, Middlebrook's contribution has been rather more significant this time.
"As long as I was ticking over with my fitness and my cricket Yorkshire were pretty good. I've been busy this summer - umpiring, [minor counties cricket with] Bedfordshire, travelling and being in and out of the Yorkshire dressing room. I've had a cracking summer."
There is nothing demonstrative about Middlebrook the man or bowler. He is a classical orthodox offspinner but his qualities - subtle changes of pace, ease bowling over or around the wicket and his consistency of length - go far in the county game.
He proved as much by taking two wickets in an over to ensure that Yorkshire remain favourites to extend their unbeaten run to 27 matches. A conventional delivery slid through the gap between Paul Stirling's bat and pad, and then Dawid Malan was snared third ball. "I just thought I'd try a quicker one and it hit him flush outside offstump," Middlebrook said.
Here was proof of why his team-mates are imploring Middlebrook to play on for another season, a possibility he did not discount. "Who knows, who knows?"
Facing an imposing deficit of 193, Middlesex threatened to subside to a two-day defeat, especially after Neil Dexter's final innings at Lord's as a home player was abruptly ended by an athletic caught-and-bowled by Jack Brooks to leave them 143 for 5.
It fell to Nick Compton to push the game into a third day. In adding an unbroken 131 with James Franklin, he has opened the prospect of Middlesex beating Yorkshire at Lord's for a second consecutive summer providing the second new ball, due after one over in the morning, can be withstood.
At times this season Compton's frustrations have been palpable, both at the England selectors' reluctance to recognise his talent and his infuriating penchant for squandering starts that had been painstakingly built. In 17 of his 29 innings, Compton has reached 28, but only on eight occasions has he passed 50. Just once has he reached three figures.
The third day of this match holds out the promise of his season's tally of centuries doubling. Compton closed on 86 not out, runs made with trademark care and application on a baking September's day. If uncertainty characterised the early stages of his innings, by the close Compton felt rather unmovable at the crease.
In the process he surpassed 1000 runs, testament to his consistency even in an underwhelming season. While all his adhesiveness was on display, his innings was marked by a growing assertiveness that manifested itself in some exquisite late cutting against spin. "He played like a Test player," Middlebrook said, approvingly. "He bided his time against the new ball and then took advantage of anything loose."
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts