FOR the second year running, Yorkshire clinched the County Championship at Trent Bridge.
The difference this time was that Yorkshire were playing in London rather than in Nottingham, where Notts’s failure yesterday to gain maximum batting points against Durham confirmed Yorkshire’s 32nd outright title.
There was no dramatic moment at the home of cricket, no title-securing wicket or run.
The Championship was sealed at 3.05pm when Durham’s Graham Onions bowled Notts’s Harry Gurney some 125 miles north, which meant that Yorkshire could not be mathematically caught.
When the news filtered down to the capital, loud cheers broke out among the sizeable contingent of Yorkshire supporters.
Up on the pavilion balcony, bathed in sunshine, the players and coaches embraced, while the two batsmen out in the middle, Andrew Gale and Alex Lees, walked up to each other and punched gloves, Gale revealing that the Middlesex players jokingly asked him whether the applause was because he had passed 1,000 first-class runs for the season, to which he laughed: “No, I’m about 250 short.”
How appropriate it was that Gale, the captain who has once more led his men superbly, should have been at the crease at the moment of triumph.
Banned by the England and Wales Cricket Board from lifting the trophy at Trent Bridge last year, as he was serving a suspension at the time, Gale will be presented with the silverware in the ECB’s own back garden after this game, which could be sooner rather than later after Yorkshire dismissed Middlesex for 106 and then made 238-9 in reply, Gale top-scoring with 98.
It is often said that a captain is only as good as the bowlers at his disposal, and Gale would be the first to acknowledge that, in Ryan Sidebottom, he has one of the best ever to pull on a Yorkshire shirt.
After Gale inserted on a cloudy morning, with bad light delaying the start by five minutes, Sidebottom began the opening over of the match needing just one wicket to reach 700 in first-class cricket.
By the time he had finished that over, Sidebottom, incredibly, had 702 wickets to his name after a triple-wicket maiden.
The sight of the scoreboard showing 0-3 was evocative of the famous 0-4 at Headingley in 1952, when the great Freddie Trueman terrorised the Indians.
Sidebottom might not have the pace of a young Fiery Fred, but he has plenty of nous and years of experience.
Yorkshire needed only a maximum of five points going into the match to guarantee the title, and Sidebottom gave them their first bowling point in those first six balls.
Paul Stirling was trapped lbw by the third delivery for the historic 700th, and Nick Compton caught behind off the fifth ball.
When Dawid Malan had his off stump uprooted by the final delivery, Sidebottom peeled away as he celebrated something he later described as “the stuff of dreams”.
Sidebottom captured his and Yorkshire’s fourth wicket when he had Stevie Eskanazi caught at second slip by Adam Lyth, leaving Middlesex 14-4 in the fifth over.
But any thoughts that batting might get easier with the withdrawal of Sidebottom, whose opening spell was 6-2-11-4, were immediately dispelled when Tim Bresnan picked up the baton.
Bresnan struck with his fifth ball after replacing Sidebottom at the Pavilion End, having Neil Dexter caught behind. He then had Sam Robson taken at first slip by Alex Lees, to make it 55-6.
James Middlebrook was brought on for an over of spin just before lunch, and it paid off when he had John Simpson caught behind.
The last three wickets went in a hurry after the break as Bresnan had James Franklin caught in the cordon by Jack Leaning before pinning Toby Roland-Jones.
It meant that Sidebottom and Bresnan each had four wickets with Middlesex nine-down, and Sidebottom won the race to a “five-for” by bowling Tim Murtagh. Only four batsmen reached double figures, with the innings lasting just 33 overs.
Yorkshire’s reply began well as openers Lyth and Lees added 45 inside 10 overs. Lyth went lbw to Roland-Jones for 25, and it was 51-2 when Gary Ballance was trapped by the same man.
Gale, however, was on a mission and he settled down to produce a typically fighting innings.
Batting was never straightforward, but Gale made it look as straightforward as anyone as he defended solidly and attacked stylishly. His second Lord’s century would have been fitting icing on the Championship cake, but, after Lees, Leaning and Bresnan were trapped lbw, Gale was caught in the slips off Dexter.
Yorkshire lost Andrew Hodd shouldering arms and Steve Patterson and Middlebrook caught behind before bad light ended a day that Yorkshire and their followers will never forget.
Sutcliffe at Lord’s: Page 20.