AFTER Yorkshire mathematically clinched the title on day one, Andrew Gale picked up the telephone.
The Yorkshire captain’s advice to his family was as follows… “If you want to see me collect the trophy at the end of the game, you’d better get yourself down to Lord’s. This match could be over inside two days.”
The assumption was not unrealistic.
Gale’s men were 238-9 in their first innings, having dismissed Middlesex for 106 on an opening day on which 19 wickets fell.
That assumption grew even more realistic when Ryan Sidebottom and Jack Brooks extended their last wicket stand from 17 to 78 the next morning, giving Yorkshire a first innings lead of 193.
Right on the stroke of tea on day two, Middlesex fell to 143-5 in their second innings, still 50 runs short of an innings defeat.
A two-day finish was now eminently possible.
Gale’s family, as advised, were now wisely in situ.
Two days later, they finally saw him collect the trophy after Middlesex had completed a remarkable comeback win by 246 runs.
The hosts had rallied from that precarious 143-5 to reach 573-8 at stumps going into day four, at which point they declared to leave Yorkshire 381 for victory from a minimum of 96 overs.
Only three times have Yorkshire chased more to win a Championship match – all since the start of the 2005 season – but there was no fairytale finish in a fairytale campaign.
Starting with Gale’s dismissal shortly after lunch, Yorkshire collapsed from 92-2 to 134 all out to suffer a defeat which, under any other circumstances, would have been entirely inexplicable.
One did not have to look too far, perhaps, for the reasons for it, although if there was any subconscious switching off by the players, it was not noticeable to first-team coach Jason Gillespie.
“I certainly didn’t see anything to suggest that the lads switched off,” he said.
“On the second morning, Andrew Gale, having scored 98 on day one, was actually in the nets two hours before play working on his game, trying to improve.
“Our preparation, I felt, was very good. You’d have to ask the individuals concerned if they sub-consciously switched off a bit, but you’ve also got to give Middlesex a lot of credit.”
Gillespie’s contention was in no way trite.
Middlesex, indeed, deserved a lot of credit; in many ways, their performance was Yorkshire-esque in its backs-to-the-wall resilience under pressure.
Middlesex, too, have lost only once this season, and this defeat – once the dust has settled on another memorable year for Gale and his men – may not be the worst memory on which to draw as Yorkshire hunt a hat-trick of titles next summer.
It was a defeat inspired by some outstanding batting from Nick Compton, in particular, who hit 149 on day three, followed by a maiden hundred from pace bowler Toby Roland-Jones.
Roland-Jones and James Harris, who had added an unbeaten 146 for the ninth-wicket before James Franklin impressively resisted the temptation on day four to bat on, followed their heroics with the willow by impressing with the leather.
On a mostly cloudy day, with a fierce wind causing Old Father Time to move around like a spinning top above the Mound Stand, Middlesex bowled extremely well.
Harris did the early damage, having Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance caught behind in the space of three balls to leave Yorkshire 28-2 in the 13th over.
Already, a testing target looked even more so at a ground where Yorkshire’s record chase is 331-8 in 1910, when they were propelled to victory by a century from a certain George Hirst.
But while Alex Lees and Gale remained at the crease, there was still an outside chance of victory, and the third-wicket pair had added exactly 50 when Yorkshire lunched on 78-2.
Lees, who scored his maiden Championship century at Lord’s two years ago, looked a good bet for another hundred in a summer that has been personally challenging.
The left-hander has looked in increasingly good order of late, and he betrayed his confidence by dancing down the track to loft the spin of Paul Stirling over mid-off to the Nursery End boundary.
Lees also caressed Harris to the cover rope and square-cut the same bowler firmly, while Gale was also strong through the covers and on the pull.
Whatever the Lord’s catering staff served up for lunch apparently disagreed with Yorkshire as much as it evidently agreed with Middlesex, who blew the champions away in a crazy afternoon.
Gale went lbw to Neil Dexter, ending a stand of 64 in 24 overs with Lees, who was fourth out with the total on 106 when he edged Roland-Jones to second slip, having struck 62 from 129 balls with eight fours.
Yorkshire then lost four wickets in 13 deliveries as Roland-Jones had Jack Leaning caught at first slip and Andrew Hodd caught behind for a golden duck.
Tim Bresnan slashed at Harris and was caught behind before Roland-Jones had James Middlebrook taken at second slip for a fifth-ball duck.
The collapse became five wickets in 29 balls when Brooks edged to third slip to give Roland-Jones his fifth wicket, Tim Murtagh rounding off proceedings by bowling Steve Patterson.