Middlesex 236 (Fuller 71, Sidebottom 3-34) and 242 (Eskinazi 73, Patel 5-56) beat Warwickshire 276 (Rhodes 118, Harris 4-84, Murtagh 3-43) and 184 (Murtagh 4-54, Fuller 3-40) by 18 runs
Middlesex threw the Division Two promotion race wide open, and maintained interest in their own season in the process, with a hard-won 18-run victory against the leaders Warwickshire at Lord's. Pre-season punditry imagined that this might be a clash between first and second and even if it had turned out to be nothing of the sort, it boiled up into a grand finish all the same.
Forty-one were needed when Warwickshire lost their ninth wicket, the game as good as gone, but Chris Wright and "the other" Ryan Sidebottom, a No. 11 with a top score of 13, slowly whittled down the target. Wright, the senior partner, contrived to play and miss at all three Middlesex seamers in successive overs, but by then the requirement was below 20.
Wright's inside edge against James Fuller then fell perilously close to leg stump. Surely even Warwickshire, whose Championship side is stronger than the sum of its parts, could not find an escape route? When Fuller bowls, the game tends to rush on - one way or another. He found an excellent yorker, Wright was cleaned up, and an industrious Middlesex bowling display had been rewarded shortly before six o'clock.
Defeats for the top two, with Kent beaten inside two days at Canterbury, means that only 17 points now separate the top four sides. Sussex are now on the prowl in second, Kent dropping to third, with Leicestershire demanding respect a place behind.
As for Middlesex, at least they retain fond imaginings that are still in contention and nobody deserves to play his cricket with a sense of optimism more than Tim Murtagh. His 4 for 54 - and seven in the match - took his season's tally to 35 wickets at 15.02.
Middlesex survived on four bowlers here (give or take a couple of fill-in overs from Max Holden) and had no Steve Finn, Toby Roland-Jones or Tom Helm. At such times, Murtagh, at 36, dutifully keeps standing up and being counted. He has his Ireland Test cap, and few county bowlers have deserved the accolade more.
It was just another sultry day in London in a never-ending summer and it was increasingly laced with tension as Warwickshire lost wickets regularly in search of 203. Murtagh's two wickets in the first over made immediate inroads, ducks in turn for Dom Sibley and Ian Bell, the first caught at slip down the slope, Bell gated by one that went the other way.
Bell's revival this summer had left even Middlesex loyalists secretly hoping on Sunday afternoon that they would be able to delight in something suitably blissful for an hour or two. Now, with the match at the business end, they wanted shot of him. He obliged second ball.
The sun has poured down upon this glorious summer - the finest since 1976, the year when Mike Brearley's Middlesex won the first of five titles in 10 years - and Bell has delivered boundaries for Warwickshire as confidently as a socialite delivers cocktail-party pleasantries. But he has been tongue-tied at Lord's, making 8 and 0, trussed up by Murtagh in no time at all, playing for the slope and finding the ball defying gravity.
Warwickshire will feel they let an opportunity slip, although it was an awkward chase on a wearing pitch, and with muggy conditions encouraging the pace bowlers. It became more awkward still as they lost three wickets for 21 in the first 7.2 overs on either side of lunch - Will Rhodes the third as he lost his off stump to James Harris.
Their chase was then weakened by three successive lbw decisions: Jonathan Trott's skittish stay ending on 32 as Murtagh brought one up the slope with the keeper standing up; Chris Woakes beaten on the back foot by Ollie Rayner's offspin; Sam Hain, the only player to drive assertively on this surface, making 37 in impressive fashion before he was defeated by Harris' inswing. Tim Ambrose, who has accepted a new one-year contract, assembled a nuggety 41, replete with square-of-the-wicket pushes. He finished the afternoon session with a flourish, despatching Murtagh through extra cover, but it was to prove his farewell message.
At 151 for 6, Warwicksire were within 52, perhaps the only time they threatened to get on top of the chase, but in the first over after tea Fuller took one down the slope, Ambrose nicked and Rayner clutched the catch at first slip.
Warwickshire, solid all season, now find too much company at the top of the table for comfort. Their excellent young pace bowler, Henry Brookes, also has a stress reaction in his back - hopefully noting too serious but he faces a prolonged period of rest. This promotion story could have many a twist left yet.