Gubbins shows the gumption to anchor Middlesex's challenge
Middlesex 208 for 5 (Gubbins 120*) v Yorkshire
The days have gone, thankfully, when a late-season performance in a key game at Lord's could sway selection for an England tour.
But, as Nick Gubbins pulled Ryan Sidebottom for six to bring up a century of the highest class, you wondered whether the selectors might have been convinced had this innings come a week or two earlier.
The selectors will have seen plenty of Gubbins, of course. Not only is one of them, Angus Fraser, his county director of cricket but, having largely developed along the same route (same school; same county) as Andrew Strauss, who sits in on selection meetings in his role as managing director of the England team, he has long been identified as one to watch. They have selected him in the Lions squad, too.
But, on a testing surface, in a big game and against a fine attack, Gubbins produced an innings that demonstrated technical and temperamental excellence. Not for the first time, either: this was his fourth century of an outstanding Championship season that has brought more than 1,300 runs and saw him awarded his county cap at the start of the lunch interval. Sooner or later, an England cap will surely follow.
It is too early to say whether it will prove to be the innings that secures Middlesex their first Championship trophy since 1993 - this title race remains wonderfully poised - but it does seem fair to state that he kept his side in contention. On a day when nobody else scored more than 22 and in conditions which most seamers would relish, his unbeaten 120 stood out like a giant among pygmies.
Might it be relevant that this game was played in front of the TV cameras? It shouldn't matter, but it probably does. Having now impressed a wider audience - including some influential voices at Sky - perhaps Gubbins' case will pushed as vociferously as that by some with the 'right' agent or 'right' supporters in the media?
It is Gubbins' all-round game that is so impressive for a man of just 22. Lots of young batsmen play pleasing strokes. Lots can score a flash fifty and the odd century. And there are several with a strong defensive technique and the determination to bat all day. But there are few, very few, who put both together as well as Gubbins or play within themselves with such maturity or confidence.
So, while he does have the patience to leave the ball all day and the discipline to play straight as often as appropriate, he also has the strokes to punish bowlers. A highlights reel might focus on his front-foot driving through cover, which is certainly pleasing, but it is his back-foot strokes that mark him out: early in the day he forced Jack Brooks for three through cover - an exquisite shot that most batsman would have been happy to defend or allow themselves to be lured into playing across the line - while there were a couple of those characteristic clips off the hips - a stroke played to a good length ball on off stump - that must make bowlers wish they had taken up another profession. And, when Sidebottom dropped short, he was pulled for six without fear or fuss. This fellow can really bat.
There were times he struggled. Tim Bresnan, who bowled magnificently well from the Pavilion End, beat his bat a couple of times as he moved the ball down the hill and then came perilously close to bowling or trapping him leg before when he persuaded it to nip back. But it bodes well - for England and Middlesex - that Gubbins did not become flustered by the challenge. He shrugged off the beatings and played the next ball with the same unflustered, phlegmatic confidence that was once the hallmark of Graham Gooch.
He will face different tests at the highest level - not least, he will be subjected to more short-pitched bowling than was seen against this attack or on this surface - and this is his first really good Championship season, but if bookies took bets on the identity of future England captains, the odds on Gubbins would be short.
Yorkshire will rue some missed chances, though. The most expensive saw Gubbins, on 22, put down by Azeem Rafiq at point off the bowling of Steven Patterson, but there were other blemishes that saw Adam Lyth, at second slip, drop a tough chance off Dawid Malan, on 19, and Gary Ballance (at third slip) put down an easier chance offered by James Franklin on 1.
Perhaps Yorkshire may consider themselves unfortunate, too. A couple of leg-before shouts must have been perilously close while replays suggested Gubbins should probably have been given out on 96, caught down the leg side off Sidebottom. They bowled with skill and persistence, though, and by keeping the run-rate under three have ensured they remain very much in contention.
This was another outstanding showcase of the standard of Championship cricket. Not only are Yorkshire without several of their England players, but they decided to leave out Liam Plunkett - they reasoned the movement of David Willey would be more valuable on a slow surface like this - while it says something for Eoin Morgan's peripheral role at Middlesex that he was not even considered for selection. He has not played a Championship match all season. It would be no surprise if he never plays another one.
After Sam Robson, whose season has deteriorated after a fine start, was pinned on the boot - reward for a well-directed yorker as much as punishment for falling over to the off side, Nick Compton was, for the second successive match, dismissed by a delivery he left. Dawid Malan, after a few gorgeously-timed strokes, played on as he pushed at one without sufficient foot movement, while Stevie Eskinazi also played on as he pushed at from Brooks that may have kept a fraction low. John Simpson, having been beaten outside off by deliveries that left him, was dismissed by one that nipped back into him; outstanding bowling by any standards.
This is no classic Lord's surface. Conditions provided assistance to bowlers throughout - 14 overs were lost to poor light at the end of the day - and a less resolute batting line-up could have been routed. Gubbins' fortitude ensured Middlesex remained in the race on a day when their challenge could easily have fallen away. With three days left, it's still too tight to call.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo