FOR Chris Rogers, read Nick Compton.
Last year, it was Australian opener Rogers who turned this fixture on its head when he masterminded the third-highest chase in Championship history.
This time, it was former England opener Compton who was the catalyst for revival, improbably clawing Middlesex back into the game and putting Yorkshire’s trophy-lifting celebrations firmly on hold, not to mention threatening their unbeaten record.
In yet more unseasonably warm weather, the expectation had been that Yorkshire would wrap up matters at some point on day three, the prelude to captain Andrew Gale lifting the trophy and banishing the bad memories of last summer, when he was infamously prevented from hoisting the silverware by the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Win, lose or draw, Gale will still raise the trophy at the end of the match, with Yorkshire having confirmed back-to-back titles on day one, but the beauty of cricket – and the sheer bloodymindedness of it too – is that unexpected twists and turns are never far away, with Middlesex rallying strongly to close on 573-8 in their second innings, a lead of 380.
In April last year, Rogers struck an unbeaten 241 as Middlesex absurdly chased 472 with seven wickets in hand.
Whether Compton’s 149 proves as influential remains to be seen, but it has helped give Middlesex a chance of victory that few would have anticipated when they conceded a first innings deficit of 193, and when Yorkshire, at one stage, were realistically contemplating a triumph inside two days.
Between tea on day two, when Middlesex were 143-5 and still 50 runs short of an innings defeat, and stumps yesterday, only three wickets fell on a pitch now flatter than the Lincolnshire Wolds, a fact that should at least encourage the visitors today when they finally strap on their pads.
The perception from afar might be that Yorkshire bowled badly, but although they understandably tired after almost two days in the field and the euphoria of day one, they stuck to their task against a side who displayed Yorkshire-esque resilience in the way they fought back.
Whereas Yorkshire are unbeaten this year (that 2014 defeat at Lord’s is their most recent in the tournament), Middlesex have themselves lost only once this season, against Yorkshire at Headingley.
It is no surprise, therefore, that they have made Yorkshire work hard, with a draw perhaps now the likeliest result.
When the third day started in glorious sunshine, the feeling was that a good night’s rest and the availability of the second new ball after one over would probably hasten Yorkshire towards success. That feeling intensified when Ryan Sidebottom struck in the the fifth over with that new ball, trapping James Franklin lbw for 63 to leave Middlesex 293-6 and end a partnership of 150 with Compton in 39 overs.
At that stage, the lead stood at exactly 100, with Compton seemingly the only significant obstacle still in the way of the Yorkshire attack.
The 32-year-old right-hander – 86 overnight – went to his hundred from 178 balls with 13 fours, the milestone reached with a squirted single into the leg-side off Sidebottom’s pace bowling partner, Jack Brooks.
Compton has never been the sort of batsman to empty bars, although he has been known to send a few bowlers in search of a drink. His was a typically nuggety innings, interspersed with the occasional classical flourish, such as when he on-drove Steve Patterson towards the foot of the terracotta pavilion and then cover-drove Brooks towards the Warner Stand.
Middlesex lunched on 361-6, and Compton finally fell with the total on 380, lbw to the persevering James Middlebrook.
Compton’s 149 arrived from 261 balls with 20 fours, and what his innings lacked in size compared with Rogers’s effort last summer, it more than made up for in irritation value to the Yorkshire XI. Compton, however, was by no means a lone hand.
John Simpson, the wicketkeeper, who top-scored in the first innings with 28 on a first day on which 19 wickets fell, showed plenty of resilience in scoring 47 from 166 balls.
As that strike-rate would suggest, it was not an innings brimming with sparkle, but it did contain six fours and a lofted maximum over long-on off Middlebrook towards the pavilion.
Simpson fell just before tea when he was trapped lbw trying to sweep the off-spin of Adam Lyth, which left the home side 427-8. But the last rites proved infuriatingly difficult to administer as the tail further emphasised the easing nature of conditions.
James Harris (67) and Toby Roland-Jones (103) added an unbeaten 146, eclipsing Middlesex’s previous best ninth-wicket stand against Yorkshire of 128 by Bernard Bosanquet – the inventor of the googly – and Richard More at Bramall Lane in 1904.
Roland-Jones attacked handsomely as he won the race to fifty from 59 balls with 11 fours, Harris reaching the landmark from 149 balls with eight boundaries shortly after Yorkshire took the third new ball – not something Yorkshire are accustomed to taking.
But not even the third new ball did the trick as Middlesex negotiated the last 15 overs with it, Roland-Jones reaching his maiden hundred from 119 balls with 18 fours, although there were several close shaves.
It was a day that belonged emphatically to Middlesex, whose score eclipsed their previous best against Yorkshire at Lord’s of 488 in 1899, and their highest against them in all first-class cricket of 527 at Huddersfield in 1887.
Scoreboard: Page 5.