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Beleaguered Yorkshire brace for a thrashing

Yorkshire 186 for 9 (Ballance 53*, Higgins 3-32) trail Middlesex 446 (Robson 159, Stirling 111, Sidebottom 3-69, Rashid 3-94) by 260 runs
Scorecard

On the last three occasions that Yorkshire have come to Lord's in the County Championship, they have been defeated in remarkable, deeply contrasting ways. In 2014, Middlesex chased down 472 in the fourth innings with ease; in 2015 Middlesex overcame a first-innings deficit of 193 to complete a crushing victory, though Yorkshire cared little as they had already won the Championship on the first day. Last year, of course, came Toby Roland-Jones' hat-trick down the hill to clinch Middlesex's stirring Championship triumph.

This time, Yorkshire might simply be thrashed. They left day two bedraggled, needing a remarkable comeback of their own to salvage the match.

Middlesex's performance was characteristic of the club's egalitarian ethos: all five bowlers took wickets. Though debutant Ryan Higgins claimed three with his probing medium pace, it was to Roland-Jones that Middlesex were most indebted. And not for the first time against Yorkshire: he picked up a combined 18 wickets across Middlesex's wins against the White Rose in the last two seasons.

In comparison, today's return appears underwhelming. But Roland-Jones' two wickets included the decisive blow of the day and, perhaps, the match. Entrusted to break the alliance of Yorkshire's two prized wickets, Gary Ballance and Peter Handscomb, Roland-Jones produced a performance of sustained hostility. It was not just the pace and bounce so much as the vicious late movement.

Ballance and Handscomb, of course, are familiar with such high-calibre bowling from their experiences in Test cricket. When Roland-Jones erred a little, pitching the ball up in pursuit of an outside edge, the two responded with sumptuous driving through the covers. Such blows did nothing to dim Roland-Jones' threat - he beat Handscomb outside off stump in consecutive balls - but his stirring spell had the feel of being a luckless one. And then, in his sixth over, bowling uphill on this sweltering afternoon, came sporting justice: a sliver of away movement, an outside edge from Handscomb, and a neat catch from Sam Robson at first slip.

It was a spell of the sort that will push Roland-Jones' claim to winning a Test debut at Lord's in a fortnight's time, evidence of how he can harass Test calibre batsmen.

It had the feel, too, of a decisive blow in the match. A game which had threatened to be drifting somnolently towards a draw had been prized open, with a little aid from occasional deliveries keeping low.

Roland-Jones had exposed the remainder of a Yorkshire batting line-up that, without Tim Bresnan, feels rather less robust than usual. It proved as much: Adil Rashid inside-edged his third ball, a lifter from Steven Finn, onto his off stump; Andrew Hodd lasted only a ball more before missing a pull off Tim Murtagh; Steven Patterson's porous forward defence was breached by Ryan Higgins, who then uprooted Jack Brooks' off stump too. Yorkshire's six-to-nine, so often a bulwark, contributed 0-0-1-0, more dialling code than lower-middle order.

Amid all the bedlam, Ballance provided a little calm. Here was another test of his readiness for a return to Test cricket and one that, save for being dropped on 34 at first slip off Murtagh, he rose to magnificently.

Preceding the doom, Harry Brook suggested that he is another fine Yorkshire batting prospect. A run of 127, 47 not out, 112 and 161 for the second team compelled Yorkshire to give Brook a Championship debut at 18, unperturbed by his only previous first-class appearance, a golden duck against Pakistan A last summer. Brook showed particular proficiency square of the wicket to justify his selection ahead of Jack Leaning. Evidently Brook is not the sort to meekly accept disappointment: he was disbelieving when flicking Ollie Rayner straight to short leg, and remained motionless for several seconds, as if channelling Theresa May's response to bad news by ignoring it.

If Brook gave Yorkshire reason to be optimistic about their future batting stocks, Ryan Sidebottom provided a reminder of his own parsimony and enduring class. He has always relished bowling at Lord's - he has taken more first-class wickets here than at any other ground which has not been his county's home - and produced an impeccable spell in the morning, combining unerring accuracy with swing. The wickets of John Simpson - playing on trying to work the ball to third man when on 49 - and Rayner - lamely spooning a pull to mid-on - took Sidebottom's tally in his farewell season to 19 wickets at 16.42 apiece.

Sidebottom's contribution ensured that the gargantuan score that Middlesex had hinted at overnight never quite materialised. Ben Coad also claimed a pair of morning scalps - Robson, for 159, flashing an away-swinger behind, and then Higgins succumbing to a delivery that straightened and deliciously uprooted the top of his off stump - before Rashid artfully accounted for the final two wickets. Fleetingly, Yorkshire had reason to be content with their day's work.