SLOWLY but surely, the picture is becoming clearer.
Unless Yorkshire score 350 in their first innings at Lord’s, and assuming that Somerset go on to beat Notts at Taunton, which is the overwhelmingly likeliest outcome, then Yorkshire’s title dream is over.
Going into day three, Yorkshire are 235-6 in reply to Middlesex’s first innings 270.
They need another 115 runs in 41 overs to reach 350 in the allotted time to obtain a fourth batting bonus point that would see them pip Somerset with a win, regardless of what transpires at Taunton.
If Yorkshire do not get to 350 in time but go on to beat Middlesex, they would need Somerset to draw or lose to become champions for a third successive summer.
Down in the south-west, third-placed Somerset are 105-2 in their second innings, a lead of 332, after they routed Notts for 138 in reply to their own 365 and then chose not to enforce the follow-on.
Somerset’s haul of seven bonus points from that game means that not only is a draw at Lord’s of no use to second-placed Yorkshire, but also of no use to leaders Middlesex, who would also need to win should Somerset prevail.
As ever, the mathematics are mind-bogglingly complex, with the pendulum of power appearing to have swung towards Somerset, but by no means having achieved its final resting position.
That Yorkshire still retain hope of becoming the first club to achieve the hat-trick since they did it in the year before man walked on the moon owes much to Jack Brooks, Tim Bresnan and Andrew Hodd, who starred for the visitors on day two in London.
First, Brooks captured a career-best 6-65 to end the Middlesex innings before it could have caused irreparable damage.
Then, Bresnan (72 not out) and Hodd (64) propelled Yorkshire from the perilous straits of 53-4 with a stand of 116 in 36 overs.
For the umpeteenth time, Yorkshire’s fragile top-order was bailed out by those of supposedly inferior ability, at least in terms of the scorecard running order, with the champions needing to look no further than their misfiring batting line-up if they do miss out on their treble quest.
In warm and sunny weather, Middlesex appeared to hold the slight advantage going into day two.
The hosts were 208-5, with former Leeds university student Nick Gubbins on 120 and captain James Franklin 21, their stand worth 57 in 24 overs.
The second new ball was only two overs old, however, and there seemed to be more swing on offer than there was on day one.
The cricket was attritional, with Yorkshire bowling well and Middlesex fighting hard, like two prizefighters exchanging heavyweight punches.
It took Yorkshire 35 minutes to make the breakthrough, Gubbins aiming a loose drive outside off stump off Bresnan and edging low to Adam Lyth at second slip.
Gubbins made 125 from 274 balls with 16 fours and a six in a vigil that lasted 10 minutes over six hours.
Franklin responded by taking David Willey for three boundaries in four balls before falling two short of his half-century, caught behind driving at Bresnan.
Once again, Bresnan was in excellent form with the ball and was arguably the pick of the Yorkshire attack, even though he finished with three wickets to Brooks’s six. Brooks, who now has 59 Championship wickets this season at 24, took the last three wickets in the space of 15 balls from the Pavilion End.
Toby Roland-Jones edged to second slip, Tim Murtagh slapped to mid-off (gifting Yorkshire maximum bowling points with 19 balls to spare), and Steven Finn edged a big drive to wicketkeeper Hodd, who dropped it moving to his right only for the alert Lyth to snaffle the rebound.
Brooks’s figures eclipsed his previous career-best of 5-23 for Northants against Leicestershire at Grace Road in 2011.
After Middlesex were dismissed on the stroke of lunch, Yorkshire lost a wicket in the sixth over of their reply when Roland-Jones yorked Alex Lees for a duck.
Roland-Jones then captured two wickets in three balls to reduce Yorkshire to 32-3, Gary Ballance and Andrew Gale both edging to Ollie Rayner at second slip to register ducks.
Lyth hit the first 33 runs of the innings and looked in velvet touch, but he fell for 43 when he played on to Finn defending off the back foot, leaving Yorkshire 53-4.
It should have been 87-5, but Hodd was badly missed on 22 by Nick Compton at third slip off Finn.
Hodd made the hosts pay with a fine innings, which included two deft reverse-sweeps to the boundary off spinner Ollie Rayner, while Bresnan fully justified his promotion to No 5 in a performance brimming with character.
Hodd was lbw playing across his pad to the excellent Roland-Jones, and David Willey went lbw to Murtagh, but Bresnan and Azeem Rafiq – unbeaten on a swift 20 – lived to fight a potentially pivotal day.
County scoreboard: Page 22