(f/o) 208 & 174

Middlesex won by an innings and 64 runs


Murtagh puts seal on crushing Middlesex win

On the day of the summer solstice, the reigning county champions have their first victory of summer. Yorkshire were not defeated so much as eviscerated

Middlesex 446 (Robson 159, Stirling 111, Sidebottom 3-69, Rashid 3-94) beat Yorkshire 208 (Ballance 69*, Higgins 3-32, Finn 3-58) and 174 (Rayner 4-35) by an innings and 64 runs
On the day of the summer solstice, the reigning county champions have their first victory of summer. Yorkshire were not defeated so much as eviscerated and did not even have the small solace of an early return home, thanks to a sponsors' dinner.
For Middlesex this was vindication for the depth of their squad. The club has taken great delight in this week's inclusion, for England Lions or the senior team, of Nick Gubbins, Dawid Malan and Tom Helm. Thrashing Yorkshire while short of these players is testament to their sturdiness. And it hinted at a growing trend: how leading Division One counties are stockpiling talent in a manner reminiscent of Premier League football clubs.
Middlesex's second-choice bowling attack when everyone is available - Helm or Murtagh, James Harris, James Fuller and Harry Podmore, alongside the left-arm spinner Ravi Patel - is formidable. Their batting depth is equally impressive: this victory was secured in spite of three of their normal top five being absent - Adam Voges as well as Gubbins and Malan - not even mentioning Eoin Morgan, who seems unlikely to ever play first-class cricket again for the county.
Max Holden, a 19-year-old opener on loan at Northants, scored a high-class Championship century at Chester-le-Street earlier this month too. So it is no exaggeration to say that, at full strength, Middlesex's second-choice XI would be better than many - perhaps even most - Division Two counties.
Two months ago, Middlesex were denied a victory against Essex at Lord's by a combination of a cautious decision not to enforce the follow-on and fourth-day showers. James Franklin considered it a "no-brainer" to decide differently after Steve Finn's 500th first-class wicket secured a 238-run first-innings lead. There was the threat of showers on the final day; there was also a palpable sense of uncertainty in Yorkshire's batting line-up to exploit.
And there was, in Tim Murtagh, a bowler just shy of 250 wickets at the ground. The unthreatening shuffle in was familiar; so was pace of the sort that would seldom alarm a motorway speed camera. But so was the late wobble, the relentless harassing of the off stump and unerring accuracy. Murtagh's exemplary opening spell amounted to 2 for 2 in six overs, accounting for Adam Lyth to a ball angled across him, and then Harry Brook, who reacted to the worst ball Murtagh bowled by slashing it behind. And when Toby Roland-Jones promptly dismissed Alex Lees prodding to second slip, Yorkshire were suddenly 16 for 3.
Brook's dismissal meant that, 37 minutes after he walked off 69 not out at the termination of Yorkshire's first innings, Gary Ballance returned to bat in their second. Ballance vigils have been the cornerstone of Yorkshire's season; this time, though, he had only been at the crease an hour before feathering the second ball after lunch, a sharp delivery from Roland-Jones, which angled across him and kept low, behind. And, with that, Ballance's Championship average in 2017 plunged to a mere 101.87. As stupendous as the figure is, it does not reflect well on Yorkshire's team-mates that Ballance has contributed 24.6% of the team's runs this season.
In the last round at Taunton, Ballance's team-mates supplied only two half-centuries in the match between them. Here, they did not contribute a single one - and nor, after Peter Handscomb succumbed cutting Finn to Nick Compton at point, did they really threaten to. Ollie Rayner whisked in with four wickets, aided by some distinctly obliging batting, and the victory was sealed a little after tea, when Ryan Sidebottom bottom-edged an attempted reverse sweep onto his toe to short leg. Somehow, it rather summed Yorkshire's limp batting display up.
"To be bowled out twice like we have is poor," said Andrew Gale, Yorkshire's coach. "We had a long chat and some strong words about the batting at Taunton and some more strong words in this game. We expect a response.
"We changed things up slightly by leaving Jack Leaning out, and there's lads in the second team banging on the door. We'll have to see where that takes us." Selecting Tom Kohler-Cadmore, the new recruit from Worcestershire, is an increasingly attractive option.
Franklin could reflect not only on a terrific team display but also on more assistance from a Lord's wicket that has not always been Middlesex's friend.
"There's been a conscious decision to leave more grass on it. Visually it looks different," he said. "After day one, Sam came in after scoring 150 not out and said it was a tricky wicket, and all the boys laughed at him. He was right. When bowlers got it in the right areas it was a tough wicket to bat on. Our bowlers asked serious questions of their batsmen."
And so, while Middlesex's wickets in the game were shared among six bowlers, none of whom claimed more than five wickets, Yorkshire were inordinately dependent on just two batsmen - Ballance and Handscomb - to make their runs.
The return of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow next week, as well as probably Tim Bresnan, will provide a welcome palliative. But without substantive improvements in the top order - above all Lyth and Alex Lees, who are averaging only 26.13 between them in the Championship - Yorkshire's problems threaten to be reoccurring, especially if Ballance's gluttony is rewarded by an England recall.

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts

Yorkshire Innings
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Specsavers County Championship Division One