Lord's, September 20 - 23, 2016, Specsavers County Championship Division One
270 & 359/6d
(T:240) 390 & 178

Middlesex won by 61 runs


Roland-Jones hat-trick gives Middlesex Championship title

In the most dramatic scenes imaginable, Middlesex secured their first County Championship title since 1993 when Toby Roland-Jones claimed a hat-trick, in a six-wicket haul, to bowl out Yorkshire out for 178 with 4.4 overs of the season remaining

George Dobell
George Dobell at Lord's
Updated on 23-Sep-2016
Middlesex 270 (Gubbins 125, Brooks 6-65) and 359 for 6 dec (Malan 116, Gubbins 93, Eskinazi 78*) beat Yorkshire 390 (Bresnan 142*, Rafiq 65, Hodd 64, Roland-Jones 4-73) and 178 (Bresnan 55, Roland-Jones 6-54)
Of course it ended in a hat-trick. Of course, on a day when supporters ran down the street to catch the final session at the home of cricket, in a season that ended with three teams' title hopes live into the final half-hour, at a match that attracted more than 20,000 spectators and saw the initiative swing by the hour, it ended with a hat-trick.
It was, as the hat-trick hero Toby Roland-Jones, put it "as good as it gets."
The short story is that Middlesex won the Championship for the first time since 1993. As the only unbeaten team in the land, few would deny they deserved their prize. They have, in the likes of Steven Finn, Nick Gubbins and, perhaps, Roland-Jones, produced players who could serve England cricket with distinction. Angus Fraser, the Middlesex director of cricket, and his coaching team have done a fine job since inheriting "a bit of a mess in 2009" (Fraser's words) and there's no reason the next few years cannot bring more success.
The longer story is rather more complicated. There had been long passages of play in this match when it seemed impossible to separate these two well-matched teams. And as they traded blows, providing an outstanding advert to the virtues and values of Championship cricket, it seemed they might negate one another and allow Somerset to win their first Championship title. Had this game been drawn, Somerset would have been champions.
In the end it took some invention to reach victory at Lord's. After plodding along for the first three hours of the day - that is a little harsh; Gubbins and Dawid Malan, who completed his century before the declaration bowling, both batted beautifully on an unhelpfully slow surface - the sides agreed an equation. After the possibility of a target of 210 off 30 overs and 220 off 32 was rejected - negotiations took place, James Franklin the Middlesex captain later admitted, while he was on the toilet - it was eventually agreed that Yorkshire would be required to score 240 in 40 overs to win.
To achieve that situation, however, Yorkshire were persuaded to serve up what might be politely be described as "help yourself" bowling. So Adam Lyth and Alex Lees delivered nine overs that cost 120 runs in the understanding that Yorkshire would then chase their target come what may.
"I told James Franklin that we would go for it and I'm a man of my word," Andrew Gale, the Yorkshire captain, said afterwards.
It seemed, at the time, a somewhat generous declaration - 240 in 40 overs? In the age of T20? Easy! Indeed, so generous did it seem that Peter Trego, the Somerset allrounder, suggested on Twitter that it should have come with Gift Aid.
But on a tired, late-season, fourth-day pitch on which Middlesex had scored at a rate of 2.48 in their first innings and Yorkshire at a rate of 3.34 in theirs, it proved an astute target. Tantalising enough to seduce Yorkshire but distant enough to defend, it was surely a declaration that would have pleased previous Middlesex captains such as Mike Brearley or Denis Compton.
It may grate some - not least those in Taunton - that such contrivance was used. But it felt legitimate. It felt as if both sides had embraced the spirit of the occasion, their role as entertainers and the fact that a draw was little use to either of them. A game that could have petered out to a dull draw was rendered endlessly memorable. Both captains, both teams, both clubs deserve credit for that.
"There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing but at the end of the day we wanted to put a bit of a show on and a finale for the season at the home of cricket," Franklin explained. "I guess Somerset will feel a little disappointed at how it panned out but, at the end of the day, we can only look after the game we're involved in and both Yorkshire and us felt we were prepared to lose to win the game. Fair play to Yorkshire for being part of it. Unfortunately only one team comes away with the spoils."
There was much to admire in this Yorkshire effort. At several times in the match - several times during the season - it seemed their hopes of winning a third successive Championship title had been dashed. But every time - nearly every time - someone produced a performance to keep them in the fight.
Typically, it was Tim Bresnan who top-scored for them in the fourth innings. And it was when he fell that their challenge finally subsided. The final six wickets were swept away for 25 runs.
Perhaps a more pragmatic, less emotional team might have blocked for a draw. Or perhaps, by blocking for a few overs, they might have convinced Middlesex to throw up a few enticing overs themselves? But a promise had been made and a promise was honoured. These things still matter in Yorkshire. It would be nice to think they still matter in county cricket. Whichever side you were supporting, there is something comforting in that.
Usually, on a day when Kevin Pietersen and Shane Warne were conducting a coaching session on the Nursery Ground, a crowd would gather around them. Not this time. Nobody wanted to miss a ball of the game on the main square. As the equation became 153 required off 20 and then 87 off 10, nobody could bear for it to continue or ever want it to end. There is always a bitter pang of regret at the end of the season. This year, that will be just a little smarter as the game has provided a late reminder of its charms. And, of course, we may never again have a 16-match season. It's 14 next year. How long before it is 12 or 10?
Defeat was clearly hard to take for Gale. He declined to confirm that he would continue as captain - "I need to take stock before thinking about that," he said - but, in time, he will surely conclude that he has presided over a golden period of Yorkshire cricket. The sight of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow in the dressing room spoke volumes for the spirit the club has engendered, though the absence of Adil Rashid raised questions. It will be fascinating to see how he reflects on the last few days in a decade or two. The chance to fight for a Championship at Lord's doesn't come along very often.
"I never thought it was a generous declaration," Gale said. "I always thought it favoured Middlesex. But we put up a hell of a fight. I knew it was slipping when Bresnan was out. We didn't have many hitters. We've had a lot of England call-ups and injuries this season, but Middlesex are worthy winners. They deserve this."
This game also marked the end of Jason Gillespie's spell as head coach of the club. It should not be forgotten that, when Gillespie was appointed, Yorkshire were in the lower division of the Championship and had gone longer than any of the first-class counties without a trophy. He has not only helped revive their fortunes - Martyn Moxon and many others have contributed, too - but he has done so by backing home-grown players and in spite of frequent and heavy calls upon his squad by the England teams. While some other foreign coaches come into the county game and make short-term decisions that might embellish their own CVs but take the club - and the English game - no further forward, Gillespie has done a fine job for Yorkshire and England. He departs having earned the enduring gratitude of both.
It might be overlooked in the drama of the evening session, but the day started with Middlesex still facing a deficit. Had Gubbins, who passed 1,400 Championship runs during his innings of 93, and Malan not batted with such class and composure, Middlesex would never have had the opportunity to set up such a declaration.
But it has been that way all season. When Middlesex stumbled to 133 for 6 against Somerset at Taunton in June, it seemed they were in deep trouble. But then James Harris and James Fuller - neither of whom were selected for this game - posted a ninth-wicket stand of 162 to set up an eventual two-wicket victory. Over the course of the season, despite relatively sparse contributions from their overseas players, they have always found someone to deliver.
On the final day, that was Roland-Jones. Running down the hill from the Pavilion End, Roland-Jones exploited a slightly uneven surface and the desperation of his opponents with a mean display of bowling that forced them behind the rate and into reckless strokes.
"The attitude wasn't great when I started in 2009," Fraser said. "There was a sense from some players that the club was lucky to have them rather than them being lucky to play for this club.
"We've put the pride back into playing for Middlesex. They're nice players but they're also nice guys."
At the same time, most at Leeds or Lord's will spare some sympathy for Somerset in general, and Marcus Trescothick in particular. But sympathy is the last thing that he or his club will want. At least they have the chance to try again next year. Even the most ardent Yorkshire or Middlesex supporter may wish they go that bit better.
Long after the pain of defeat and the pleasure of victory has subsided, we may come to reflect on this match as the apogee of the two-division age of County Championship cricket. There is so much good in it. So much of value.
We talk often of the worth of the Championship: its ability to develop players and contribute to the success of the England Test team. What we hear less frequently is the entertainment it offers. But anyone who saw the emergence of Haseeb Hameed, the development of Ben Duckett, the enduring brilliance of Trescothick or the improvement in Gubbins and Jake Ball, witnessed a brilliantly vibrant competition that continues to deliver players and delight its followers. And anyone who saw Rob Jones celebrate his first century or Jack Shantry thrash the second fifty runs of his own, witnessed how much this game still means to those involved and its ability to surprise. While Test cricket remains important to us, the Championship remains relevant and deserves protecting.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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Specsavers County Championship Division One