For the second consecutive season, Yorkshire sealed the County Championship at the home of their closest rivals. If this point illustrates how far ahead of the pack they are, bear in mind they have won the Championship 11.5 days of cricket early, that they have won it despite losing, at various stages, seven players to England, and that they have won it unbeaten. Indeed they have lost only three of 61 Championship games since Jason Gillespie arrived ahead of the 2012 season.
These are halcyon days in the Broad Acres indeed, the county’s first consecutive County Championships since 1968, which was the last of seven triumphs in a decade, and Fred Trueman’s final championship season.
That year, the team beat a Test-strength Australia, and it is not beyond the realms of the ridiculous to suggest that with the production line showing no signs of abating, this vintage could not only enjoy sustained championship dominance, but also roll over a number of international sides.
Yorkshire arrived at Lord’s needing five points to seal the title, likely expecting to wait until some time on Thursday. But shortly after lunch they had bowled Middlesex out for 106, and at 3.06pm – and just 20 runs behind – news filtered through from Trent Bridge that Nottinghamshire had been bowled out for 204 by Durham, meaning the three points Yorkshire’s bowlers had earned were enough already.
A hearty travelling contingent cheered from the stands and players emerged on the balcony toasting the news with hugs and high-fives, while the two in the middle – the captain Andrew Gale and his deputy Alex Lees – settled for a business-like handshake. Minutes later the club’s Twitter account was promoting merchandise in honour of the triumph. Some things have changed since Trueman’s days.
The day’s first over meant it was a matter of “how soon” as Ryan Sidebottom, who enjoyed his fifth championship success, picked up his 700th first-class wicket, then his 701st, and 702nd. Paul Stirling played across the line and was trapped leg-before to the third ball, Nick Compton was caught behind off the fifth, and the next sent Dawid Malan’s off stump cartwheeling to leave Middlesex scoreless and three down.
Soon after,the debutant Stevie Eskinazi flailed Sidebottom to second slip, and the left-arm seamer later returned, castling the last man Tim Murtagh to finish with five for 18.
Between times, one of Yorkshire’s other bowlers was always going to pick up the torch. That was Tim Bresnan this time, as he dismissed Neil Dexter and Sam Robson – both of whom had looked Middlesex’s best equipped – to edges behind the wicket.
John Simpson took the attack to Yorkshire but naively tracked James Middlebrook on the stroke of lunch, a break not long enough to interrupt Yorkshire’s flow, as Bresnan dismissed James Franklin and Toby Roland-Jones in the same over shortly after, and Sidebottom finished the job. In favourable conditions, Yorkshire’s seamers had made batting hellish, with movement in the air and a little off the pitch, their probing answered only by prodding.
After Gale led a huddle and Sidebottom was given a standing ovation by a bulging pavilion, there was something rather poetic about the gloom lifting for Yorkshire’s openers to walk to the wicket. Adam Lyth looked in sensational touch, sending Murtagh’s first over for two cover-driven fours, but he played across the line to Roland-Jones. Gary Ballance quickly fell for a duck in the same fashion.
It was Gale for whom this triumph is so fitting, after he was denied the opportunity to lift the trophy at Trent Bridge when embroiled in a dispute with Ashwell Prince a year ago. He has been at the club since he was 10, and has for seven years been a selfless and savvy captain and now, one able to lift the Championship trophy. They location of the lifting – it was the suited sorts at Lord’s who denied him last year – will perhaps make it even sweeter.
How he would have longed to do so with a century. Alas he fell two runs short, a brilliant innings ended as an attempted cut found its way to second slip. He had dominated through off and driven handsomely down the ground; it says plenty of the innings and the man that such an audible groan sounded around the ground as he trudged off, bat behind his head and eyes toward the sky.
After that first over, it should have come as no surprise that 19 wickets fell in the day, but it is to Middlesex’s credit that they remain in this game. They are, after all, desperate to finish second after narrowly avoiding relegation last year. Yet the sight of Gale further charging the coach Jason Gillespie and Sidebottom’s glasses as they addressed the press should not fool them into thinking the foot is off the pedal; all three spoke of extending this run, finishing unbeaten and topping – and smashing – the 257 points Sussex achieved in 2003, the most since two divisions began.
Yorkshire’s supremacy is down to a number of factors. They have a middle order that has often extended to No9, relentless bowling, and the county game’s deepest resource. Afterwards, Gale cited the expectation on youngsters new to the side; Gillespie identified sheer hard graft, Martyn Moxon the club’s history, and Sidebottom their clarity of aims. This, as all four agreed, is barely the start.