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10th Match, Lord's, April 19 - 21, 2024, County Championship Division Two
159 & 244
(T:158) 246 & 158/4

Middlesex won by 6 wickets


Higgins to the fore as Dukes return revives Middlesex

Yorkshire collapse on lively Lord's track to keep ball debate raging

Ethan Bamber is congratulated by Jack Davies on the wicket of Harry Brook, Middlesex vs Yorkshire, County Championship, Division Two, Lord's, April 19, 2024

Ethan Bamber is congratulated by Jack Davies on the wicket of Harry Brook  •  Getty Images

Middlesex 84 for 2 trail Yorkshire 159 (Higgins 4-31) by 75 runs
From 1306 runs for 15 wickets across four days to 243 for 12 in just 55.4 overs some two weeks later. What a difference a ball makes.
At least, that's how the narrative will play out. The Dukes' return at Lord's brought with it a much brighter day for Middlesex's bowlers, despite clouds obstructing the sun throughout. An attack who unwillingly engaged in half a season's worth of grazing in a fortnight almost doubled their season's wicket tally in one day (having managed 11 from their first two games).
The bad weather across the first two rounds of the County Championship makes it hard - and a little pointless - to judge the overall impact of the Kookaburra ball. As many as seven of the nine matches in the second round were bubbling along nicely before rain ensured those final days amounted to nothing.
At the same time, Toby Roland-Jones' assessment that the cricket had been "turgid" had merit, even if he and Middlesex's experiences this month have been particularly extreme. That opening run-fest at home to Glamorgan before Middlesex's trip away to Northamptonshire - where 552 for 6 declared played 553 for 2 - hinted at the need for firmer pitches to accompany the less bowler-friendly ball for a fairer fight.
The irony is that the Kookaburra ball would have done more on this Lord's surface - top of the slope, in front of the away dressing room - than it did at the bottom of the square, where Sam Northeast, and, latterly, Ryan Higgins, piled them on. A bouncier track indiscriminately offers more for any seam, regardless of which hemisphere it was stitched.
Naturally, there will be a temptation to bogeyman this wicket-filled day. There certainly would have been more dismissals had rain not taken out 31 overs, particularly with the movement under lights for Yorkshire. Higgins, the most medium of the medium pacers, emerged with 4 for 31, with wicketkeeper Jack Davies standing up for most of his six overs.
At the same time, Yorkshire were relatively comfortable at 75 for 2. Though Roland-Jones had accounted for openers Adam Lyth and Finlay Bean - both left-handers undone by movement up the slope for lbw and bowled, respectively - Shan Masood and Joe Root were at the crease, with Harry Brook padded up. An engine room of international repute had the opportunity to take the innings in a different direction. All three were dismissed in the space of 29 deliveries.
Uncharacteristically firm hands from Root to a delivery he could have left alone or played with a more angled bat face ended up skewing an edge to Higgins at gully. It gave Tom Helm his first wicket of the season, and, finally, an average, even if it is 256.
Brook went next, driving at a delivery from Bamber that held its line, caught Leus du Plooy at a wide second slip. Masood then fell leg before as Bamber forced one up the slope from around the wicket.
Just like that, Yorkshire were 87 for 5, with George Hill and Jonny Tattersall the ones waist-deep in the mire. Had du Plooy held onto an edge from Hill, found by Higgins, it could have been 91 for 6.
Higgins' disappointment was short-lived as he pocketed two in three at the start of his next over. Tattersall and Jordan Thompson were both trapped in front so obviously that they appeared to walk before the umpire confirmed the vociferous appeals around them.
A 33-run stand from 25 deliveries between Hill and Ben Coad - third top-scorer with 24 - added some respectability to the scorecard. Likewise, some intent from Dan Moriarty that took Yorkshire beyond 150. And with a decent chunk of cricket remaining, there were amends to be made in the field.
Alas, what could have been close to a session's worth of overs eventually amounted to 18 with one last shower before bad light brought about the close. Thompson's pinpoint delivery into the top of Nathan Fernandes' off stump - through a gap between the left-hander's bat and pad - was followed by arguably the ball of the day from Mickey Edwards. The rangy Aussie hammered one into a length from around the wicket, leaping and leaving Max Holden, catching an edge along the way to make it 37 for 2.
It was upon the day's last wicket that the final rain break arrived. Had du Plooy not walked out to the middle before being sent back, Middlesex might have sent in a nightwatcher when play restarted at 6.10pm under grim skies and beaming floodlights.
But du Plooy remains, unbeaten on 23. His footwork to strike Edwards off his length - crisply through cover, then streakily through backward point - was an engagingly proactive take on survival. Mark Stoneman, similarly, was not afraid to drive, though was close to being run out on 15 when rejected for a single into the covers that came back with interest but just missed the stumps at the striker's end.
Though Middlesex are in a commanding position, the fact we have a Dukes in play gives a sense things could still head back in Yorkshire's favour. Therein lies the beauty of that darker, more volatile ball. And for all the merits of the discussion over whether its use in county cricket is conducive to a successful England Test team, it is not one these two teams desperate to get out of Division Two seem all too concerned about right now.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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County Championship Division Two