YORKSHIRE coach Jason Gillespie hailed a “great match” despite seeing his side miss out on a third straight County Championship title in a dramatic 61-run defeat to Middlesex at Lord’s.
A Toby Roland-Jones hat-trick provided a suitably dramatic end to a magnificent four-day finale as Middlesex clinched their first title for 23 years by beating the defending champions with 28 balls to spare on a golden, sunlit evening at Lord’s.
An 11th championship title, their first since 1993, and a first to be won on their home ground at Lord’s since 1920, was Middlesex’s deserved reward for a brave declaration as the county cricket season ended in unforgettable scenes.
Yorkshire, set 240 to win in 40 overs – they also needed victory to take a third successive title – were bowled out for 178 with Roland-Jones finishing with 6-54 and, after bowling Yorkshire last man Ryan Sidebottom around his legs, sprinting away in ecstasy before being engulfed by his joyous team-mates.
Roland-Jones had bowled Andy Hodd with the first ball of the 36th over, having removed Azeem Rafiq with the last ball of his previous over. Yorkshire’s players then went on a lap of the ground, as Middlesex began their celebrations, and another fine crowd gave them a generous hand. This was a day when all 22 players were winners, in respect of the entertainment they had served up and the gloss they had put on a much-loved, 126-year-old competition.
The result left Yorkshire finishing the year in third, with Somserset – convincing winners over relegated Nottinghamshire the previous day – forced to settle for second spot, prolonging their wait for a first-ever championship title.
It also meant Gillespie departs Yorkshire without any silverware from the fifth and final year of his time as first-team coach at the club, although he was still able to look back fondly at his time at Headingley, having led the club to the title in 2014 and 2015.
“It has been a lot of fun, with two championships in the past two years, and I’ve loved it,” said Gillespie. “Well done to Middlesex, because they are worthy champions.
“I don’t like losing, but our top order batting has not been as good or as consistent as it should be this season. Every second innings we have found ourselves at 60-3 or worse and so that’s something that needs to be addressed.
“But this has been a great match, with decent crowds and so many other people following it on the various media streams. This match is as good as domestic cricket gets. The entertainment on display today was second to none.
“I am a huge fan of county cricket and I think it is in good shape. The administrators are working hard to improve it, and I think they should be given time. I certainly don’t think what they are doing is trying to sideline county cricket in any way.”
Earlier, Yorkshire had served up some declaration bowling once Middlesex’s Dawid Malan and Nick Gubbins had removed the chance of a result by natural means by taking their third wicket stand of 198 in 65 overs.
Malan made 112 and Gubbins 93 to add to his first innings 125, with Middlesex finally declaring on 359-6.
At the halfway stage of their chase Yorkshire were 87-3, having lost Adam Lyth, Alex Lees and David Willey and needing a further 153 from 20 overs. Lyth, playing defensively on the back foot, edged Toby Roland-Jones to first slip on 13, Lees pulled Tim Murtagh to deep mid wicket to go for 20 and Willey, promoted to No 3, made only 11 before skying Murtagh to deep mid on where Stevie Eskinazi held a fine catch running back.
Bresnan was soon into his stride, however, and helped Gary Ballance to add 50 in 10 overs to reinvigorate Yorkshire. Ballance, who slog-swept Ollie Rayner’s off breaks for six, had scored 30 off 39 balls when he swung at Steven Finn and skied to Sam Robson at deep mid on.
Gale, on 2, edged Finn for four at catchable height between the keeper and a wide first slip and soon he was thrashing the same bowler through the covers for another boundary as Yorkshire brought the runs required down to two figures.
Bresnan, having just thrashed Roland-Jones to the extra cover ropes for the best of his four fours – he clubbed two legside sixes besides, off Rayner and Finn – then tried to whip the next ball away to mid wicket and was adjudged leg-before right across in front of his stumps. It was a brave innings from the makeshift Yorkshire No 5 who had scored a total of 197 runs in the match.
Gale, on 22, was bowled making room against the impressive Roland-Jones, to leave Yorkshire 160-6, and Rafiq soon followed when he skied an attempted big hit to the keeper. It was the 300th first-class wicket of Roland-Jones’s career, but that milestone was lost amid all the excitement.
In between the Roland-Jones hat-trick, Steven Patterson was bowled by Finn for 2 as Yorkshire’s second innings disintegrated in the face of some superb pace bowling.
Middlesex initially fought hard to get to 239-3 from 85 overs before Lyth and Lees served up some ‘help-yourself’ spinners while another 120 runs came from 8.5 overs. Sixes and fours came in a flurry, but the gentle offerings – however unedifying – were surely justified in the circumstances. Nobody would have wanted this match, and this wonderful championship finale, simply to have fizzled out in a dull draw. And, what is more, Somerset - who would have been champions if this match ended in a draw - would have resorted to declaration bowling if they had needed to do so to win the title.
The declaration arrived when James Franklin skied a return catch to Lyth from the fifth ball of the 94th over of Middlesex’s second innings. Tea was immediately taken, as another fine Lord’s crowd and thousands watching on TV and via social media gathered themselves for the prospect of a thrilling final session, of the match ... and the season.