To Lords for the fourth day of the Middlesex vs Yorkshire match to decide where the County Championship went with both these counties and Somerset all starting day as possible winners.,
The crowd grew throughout the day. The Grandstand, the lower tier of Compton Stand and the unfinished Warner stand were closed, but the rest for the ground open for spectators. By the end of the match the crowd must have been at least 10,000 and could well have been a few thousand more because the open stands and the pavilion were all heavily tenanted – Lords has a capacity of 28,000. The most heartening thing about the crowd was the large number of people under the age of thirty.
Until lunch the game proceeded as a contest with Gubbins and Malan clearing the deficit and giving Middlesex a small lead. Only one wicket fell in the session, although Malan was dropped in the fifties. The first 40 minutes or so after Lunch produced less than 20 runs. All rather mystifying. Had Middlesex pressed the accelerator during that time and continued to press it for another hour or so they would have been able to set Yorkshire a reachable but demanding total without any connivance between the sides. Instead there was a nasty bout of joke bowling to set a target of 240 in 40 overs. Frankly, this left something of a bad taste in the mouth and Somerset have reason to feel aggrieved.
Notwithstanding the bad taste it left it was interesting to see how intentional very poor and very slow bowling often produces wickets when a slog is on even where professional batsmen are involved. The scoring rate certain accelerated rapidly but three Middlesex wickets of competent batsmen went in a handful of overs. Nonetheless it was an unedifying spectacle.
240 runs in 40 overs might sound highly gettable these days, but there is a huge difference between chasing such a total in a limited overs format where bowlers can only bowl 8 overs (in a 40 over match) and fielding restrictions exist and chasing 240 at six and over in a first class match where no such restrictions exist. Middlesex used just four bowlers – Finn, Murtagh, Roland-Jones and Rayner – an attack which be an improvement on a number of Tests sides today. (I have long been an advocate of removing the restriction on the number of overs a bowler can bowl in 50 over cricket because it makes for a much more natural game).
The Middlesex captain Franklin kept a fine balance between attack and containment. He had two slips for the first 19 overs and kept one slip afterwards until the end of the match. He set a field which was one or two slips, a third man, a deep backward square leg and a ring of fielders in front of the wicket on both sides of the pitch no more than 35 yards from the bat. This worked splendidly because batsmen had to worry about drives edging to the slips and even when they middled drives they very often resulted in a dot ball or at most a single.
David Willey, promoted to number 3, showed the difference between coming in in an ODI or T20 and smacking bowlers around and batting against a field with close catchers and bowlers allowed to bowl as many overs as they want. He left after 21 balls having scored only 11 despite a good deal very energetic attempted strokeplay. He simply lacked the technique to force the game against good bowlers bowling with close catchers.
The one Yorkshire batsman who managed to come to terms with the demands of the run chase was Tim Bresnan. Wonder of wonders, he still has an absolutely orthodox stance, a great rarity these days when most players have adopted stances which involve one or more of these horrors: squatting, leaning forward, waving the bats around, holding the bat high in the air and standing nearly upright. As a consequence he looked the most complete and secure player of any batsman on either side. Not only did he have an orthodox stance he made the highest Yorkshire score (55) playing entirely orthodox strokes yet had by far the highest rate of scoring in the innings.
The Middlesex bowlers simply refused to let t Yorkshire get away. Roland-Jones bowled as he always does when I have seen him (and I have seen him bowl dozens of times) at a lively pace and, most importantly, there were very few balls which the batsmen could leave. That England have never given him a chance is bewildering.
At the end of the game – which Roland-Jones completed with a hat-trick spread over two overs – I felt that Yorkshire should in fairness to Somerset have tried to shut up shop for a draw when they were seven wickets down needing over sixty off six overs and with no batsman of any stature or indeed real hitting power left. They could have had no rational expectation of reaching the total and wickets 8 and 9 went to wild heaves. The 10th wicket – that of Sidebottom – was simply him being beaten by a ball too good for him.
Despite it being the fourth day the pitch was benign. Had the match been played out normally it would have been a draw. That would have made six draws from the seven CC games Middlesex have played at Lords this year. That is all down to placid pitches. Not good for the game
The County Championship has been a great advert for first class cricket this year and it makes the ECB’s seeming determination to greatly reduce its place in the English cricket calendar all the more infuriating. No one in a powerful position within the ECB seems to value the Championship for itself.. The day after Middlesex had won the 2016 Championship the ECB’s director of cricket, the ex-England captain Andrew Strauss gave an interview to Radio 5 in which he described the value of County Cricket as being little if any more than a means of producing England cricketers. This ignores the great history behind county cricket and the fact that much very attractive and often gripping cricket is being played in the four-day game. There is good reason to believe that the Championship could really thrive if an attempt was made to promote it, something which has never been done with any intensity or for most of the time at all. My detailed ideas for promoting the Championship can be found here.