Bittersweet for Yorkshire as Middlesex end run
Middlesex 106 and 573 for 8 dec (Compton 149, Roland-Jones 103*) beat Yorkshire 299 and 134 (Lees 62, Roland-Jones 5-27, Harris 3-37) by 246 runs
Drenched in champagne glinting in the Lord's sunshine, Andrew Gale proudly held aloft the County Championship trophy, a year to the day after the ECB had prevented him from doing so when Yorkshire were victorious last year. This was a triumph belated and deserved.
Yet Gale considered it "bittersweet". Blame Middlesex. They had displayed the temerity to ensure Gale's celebrations came after an emphatic defeat, something that seemed unimaginable when Ryan Sidebottom consigned them to the wreckage of 0 for 3 one over into the opening day, or when Yorkshire secured a first innings lead of 193.
"If you're slightly off your game in this division that's what happens," Gale said. Here was a clarion cry from Middlesex, taking on the role of representative of the 17 counties - or at least the eight in the First Division - who do not sport the White Rose. The message was clear: the gap between Yorkshire and the rest is less insurmountable than a 26-match unbeaten run in Championship cricket, now at an end, suggests.
Certainly that is the case when Toby Roland-Jones and James Harris summon performances as powerful as they mustered on the final two days against the champions. After adding 146 for the ninth wicket on the third day, now the two combined to decimate Yorkshire's batting.
Just as the final day of first-class cricket at Lord's this season threatened to descend into a somnolent wait for Gale to lift the crown, Roland-Jones and Harris located late reverse swing and a lethal line just outside offstump.
Devastation ensued. Five wickets fell in 29 balls, testament to the vim with which Roland-Jones and Harris bowled. Roland-Jones was particularly outstanding. Bounding in with pace and bounce, he bowled 21 overs of unerring intensity. He claimed 5 for 27, every wicket caught between keeper and fourth slip. On a pitch that had seemed increasingly pallid, Roland-Jones located a toxic cocktail of reverse swing away from the right-hander and lift outside offstump.
"It's something that's been coming for a while. I've by no means been bowling badly, but just haven't had that real match-deciding spell which can really define a bowler. It's nice to feel that's come at last," Roland-Jones said. "It was probably the most rhythm I've had all year - running in just felt a little bit more effortless. I wasn't really stretching or straining, and the line I bowled was telling."
Together with his maiden first-class century, the upshot was one of the most satisfying victories of his career and Roland-Jones' finest individual performance: "I don't think I've done anything that comes close." On this evidence it would be folly were he not seriously considered for an England Lions recall.
Harris was scarcely less impressive, Middlesex's penultimate match of the season continuing his stirring revival as a cricketer. When he left Glamorgan three years ago, Harris was so in-demand that 11 counties attempted to sign him. He signed for Middlesex because Harris believed it would maximise his chances of playing Test cricket. The England selectors told Harris he needed to locate extra pace, so he went to the national academy in Loughborough in search of it.
It did not work. All Harris achieved was to lose the swing that had enticed Middlesex in the first place. His confidence went too, and last year Harris even returned to Glamorgan on loan in an attempt to relocate it.
Now he is the second highest wicket-taker in Division One, behind only Chris Rushworth. Harris showed why by swinging the new ball away from Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance just enough to invite the edge and then returning to aid Roland-Jones in the evisceration of Yorkshire's batting.
So crushing was this victory that it was enough to invite the question of how great the gulf between Yorkshire and the rest. "I wouldn't say there's a massive gap. We've just managed to play some very good cricket. We saw today - we got thumped so it's hard for me to tell you how big the gap is," Jason Gillespie said. Middlesex have now beaten Yorkshire at Lord's in consecutive seasons, and were also tenacious in defeat at Headingley this year.
A year ago Middlesex's summer ended with a display of resolve at Old Trafford to protect their Division One status. In any context 2015 has been a quietly formidable in red ball cricket: 15 games have yielded seven victories and only one defeat. Middlesex have done it all while overcoming significant obstacles. Adam Voges' late-blooming Test career upset their overseas plans, while the upshot of reinvigorating Steve Finn has been to lose him to England.
No wonder there was such an air of contentment as the members lauded Middlesex's efforts at Lord's this season. Yorkshire remain county cricket's outstanding team, but Middlesex, who were the last county to beat them in the Championship, also at Lord's, now have only to navigate a trip to New Road to prove themselves most-deserving runners-up.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts