David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
Yorkshire 206 (Bess 56, Parnell 5-64) and 247 (Willey 41*, Parnell 5-79) beat Northamptonshire 234 (Zaib 55, Taylor 50) and 218 (Vasconcelos 41, Willey 3-39) by one run
A wonderful match contested under glowering skies - and missing only glowering spectators - fell the way of Yorkshire by a single run as their captain, Steve Patterson, broke Northamptonshire's resistance in what will rank as one of the season's great finishes.
Wayne Parnell, whose diligent 33 from 102 balls had guided Northants to the brink of victory, was intent purely on survival as he pushed at a ball which left him from around the wicket and Jonny Tattersall held the catch. In the tensest of finishes, Patterson had taken the onus upon himself, committed to the basics, and been rewarded. The team man who took the Yorkshire captaincy when nobody else wanted it had prevailed.
At the non-striker's end, a story was after all not written in the stars. Nearly 10 years ago, Ben Sanderson had been released by Yorkshire. He went back to his trade as a builder and rediscovered his love for the game with Shropshire and Rotherham Town. How he would have loved to make the winning hit. Instead, he never got to swing that demolition ball for a final time and could only console himself with an unstinting bowling display (4 for 85 in 42 overs) that had underlined his qualities.
This being cricket, and this being England, rain also had to play a part. With tension at its height, and Northants having lost their ninth wicket with 14 needed, the last man, Sanderson, trudged out, peering into stygian darkness, with the floodlights belatedly flickering into life, only to be told by the umpires to walk straight back again.
Nearly an hour later, the sides returned. There would have been conversations aplenty, some talking, some listening, some merely closing off the world. Sanderson drove Duanne Olivier to the cover boundary, Parnell freed his arms and sliced Patterson to third man for another four. Sanderson scrambled a bye when Patterson might have bowled him. Empty stands or not, the tension was palpable.
Then came Patterson's intervention, a cruel end for Parnell who had also taken 10 wickets in the match. Yorkshire kept their unbeaten record in Group 3 and recorded their second Championship win by one run. Northants lost by one run for the first time. It was a match that deserved a tie.
County cricket has its detractors, and many shifts in the global game are stacked against it, but this was a constantly rewarding contest in which countless little moments threatened to tilt the balance one way or another. It is to be hoped the advent of online streaming services meant that many new converts discovered as much.
The edge was with Yorkshire at start of play with Northants needing a further 126 runs with six wickets intact in encouraging seam bowling conditions. Northants were prepared to wait for the loose deliveries, and considering that the ball was swinging, Yorkshire kept them to a minimum. It was gripping stuff.
Yorkshire were vulnerable, especially as the equation meant they were unlikely to get the chance of a second new ball. With their intended new-ball pairing this season, Ben Coad and Matt Fisher, both injured, their four-strong pace attack was a bit of a mix-and-match affair. Patterson was later to underline that he remains as steadfast as they come, but he is 37 now; David Willey's career emphasis has been on limited-overs cricket; Jordan Thompson might be the epitome of a Yorkshire terrier, but he was a terrier in only his 10th first-class match; and Olivier, South African Kolpak turned overseas player, is having to learn how to moderate his approach from all-out quick to cannier operator.
The first hour or so, though, in which Northants lost three wickets, strengthened the suspicion that Yorkshire would prevail. But in every previous innings, half the side had fallen with the score below 100, only to make a partial recovery as the ball got older. This time when Luke Procter was caught at the wicket, Northants were on 115. You could contend they were ahead of the game.
The most heated of dismissals involved Tom Taylor, who was at the centre of two marginal umpiring decisions in successive overs, both of which were met with trenchant observations from several Yorkshire fielders.
The advent of on-line streaming now means that the decisions of county umpires are subjected to closer examination than ever before, and with the pressures will come high standards. If the system is working properly then international umpires (whose standards are staggeringly high) will prove to be slightly better than most county umpires, just as international cricketers are also superior. There is no shame in that.
As far as Taylor is concerned, both decisions were marginal, and the umpires did their job. Yorkshire were adamant that his edge off Willey was neatly clutched by Tom Kohler-Cadmore at second slip, but Taylor stood his ground, and neither Nick Cook, nor his square leg partner, David Millns, felt able to give the catch.
Taylor could not make good his reprieve. Patterson produced a big break-back in his next over, the delivery probably struck Taylor in line, and was probably good for height, and Millns gave it. Patterson is not a showy sort, but his bellow could have been heard in the beer garden at The Original Oak, the pub where Ian Botham once allowed himself a bevvy or two before transforming the 1981 Headingley Test the following day, and where there was supping to be had once more.
Saif Zaib batted staunchly in both innings, edging his score along largely with pushed offside singles, two of which might have run out Taylor, only for Willey's shy to miss the stumps on both occasions, the first of them flying for five overthrows. It was a similar shot against Willey that brought about Zaib's downfall, caught at the wicket, his error followed by a frustrated kick of the turf.
Yorkshire's close catching had been exemplary throughout, but two blemishes then allowed Parnell and Gareth Berg to add 32. Tattersall spilled Berg, off Olivier, as he dived across first slip, and Kohler-Cadmore could not hold a fast, neck-high chance at first slip as Parnell cut at a short one from Patterson.
Berg's departure, driving at Willey, left Northants eight down with 42 needed. Yorkshire's game surely? Parnell opted to trust Simon Kerrigan's obduracy and played no differently. Two sets of four byes trimmed the target further, as did an inside edge by Parnell against Olivier, which narrowly missed his stumps. At second slip, Lyth's hands spent more time clutching his head than hanging by his side.
Oliver returned to have Kerrigan caught at second slip. Then came the rain and thousands of afternoon plans put on hold in households across Yorkshire and Northamptonshire as the final, decisive moment was anticipated.