YORKSHIRE pace bowler Ryan Sidebottom believes that the pressure is on Middlesex as the County Championship gears up for a thrilling climax.
Middlesex enter the last two weeks of the season top of Division One, one point above Yorkshire with two games to play.
On Monday, Yorkshire face Somerset at Headingley while Middlesex take on Lancashire at Old Trafford, before Yorkshire and Middlesex meet in the final round at Lord’s from September 20.
Yorkshire have lost on their last two visits to Lord’s, with Middlesex the only side to have beaten them in the Championship in the last three years.
But with Yorkshire having won back-to-back titles, and Middlesex having not lifted the trophy since 1993, Sidebottom believes that the burden of expectation is on the London club.
“The pressure is on Middlesex,” he said. “We know how to win the Championship, we’ve been there.
“In a sense, we’ve nothing to lose, having won two in a row. Middlesex have not won it for a long time, so the pressure is on them to keep going.
“At the end of the day, it’s who plays the best cricket, that’s what it’s going to boil down to.
“It’s going to be an exciting finish. Everybody in the league is probably looking at that last game of the season.
“But we need to play well at home to Somerset first and see what happens from there.
“Somerset have just had a good win and are feeling good, so we’re going to have to play our best cricket to beat them.”
Somerset climbed to third with a narrow win over Warwickshire this week, with Yorkshire moving 21 points above them with a comprehensive 228-run success against Durham at Headingley yesterday.
Sidebottom starred with season’s-best figures of 4-34 as Durham were dismissed for 192 on day four.
“It’s always nice to get your best figures of the season coming towards the back end, but it’s not about personal stats or anything like that,” he said. “The most important thing is that we’re in the ascendancy at the moment and playing really good cricket with bat and ball.
“In the last two or three weeks we’ve gained a little bit of momentum – last week against Hampshire, we could have won down there but it was rain-affected – and I think we’ve just grown in confidence as a team.
“Players have come back fresh; me and Brooksy (Jack Brooks) have not played for quite some time (after injury), so we’re feeling pretty good, and the batters all seem to be contributing.”
Sidebottom had three months off with a fractured fibula before returning at the start of last month.
Yorkshire look a different side with his skill and experience, and with Brooks also back after a quad injury, the club’s new-ball attack is fresh and firing.
“I’ve had a few months off, so I still feel fresh going into the last part of the season,” said Sidebottom. “I think that helps and, as I always say, I still love coming in every day and I still love bowling.
“I love getting up for the challenge, and being around the guys helps to keep me young.
“It was great to get the win against Durham, and it keeps that pressure firmly on Middlesex.”
Yorkshire have managed to stay in contention this year despite not having played to their optimum. It is a fact that Sidebottom readily admits.
“I don’t think in the last couple of years that we’ve always played great cricket as a team,” he said.
“But I think that individually, and when it’s mattered, we’ve stood up and been counted on many occasions.
“In the last few years, we’ve got better and better at that; when we’ve been under pressure, we seem to have been able to pull it out of the bag. All we can do is keep challenging and keep pushing as hard as we can.”
After Middlesex held their nerve yesterday to gain a five-wicket win at Notts, Sidebottom said both title rivals are keeping a close eye on each other.
“As much as you don’t want to look at other results, they’ll be looking at ours and we’ll be looking at theirs,” he said.
“Come next week, the same will be happening, and then we get down to that final match.
“We’re in a great position in the table, and Dizzy (coach Jason Gillespie) is leaving at the end of the year. It would be great to see him off on a high note.”