Yorkshire suffer as Middlesex inflict more pain

Yorkshire's Alex Lees out caught by Middlesex's John Simpson.
Yorkshire's Alex Lees out caught by Middlesex's John Simpson.

IT has the makings of a future quiz question.

Name the only county to beat Yorkshire in each and any of the three seasons in which Yorkshire won the County Championship from 2014 to 2016?

Yorkshire's Andrew Gale trudges off as the Middlesex players celebrate.

Yorkshire's Andrew Gale trudges off as the Middlesex players celebrate.

Answer: Middlesex.

Yorkshire will certainly hope that is the case because it would mean not only that they will retain their title come season’s end, but also that they will not lose another match in so doing – save, perhaps, for the return fixture at Lord’s in late September.

That they will need to play much better than they did here to perform the hat-trick, however, is blindingly obvious.

As at Lord’s in April 2014, and then again at the same ground last September, Yorkshire were well beaten by what can now be considered their bogey team.

Indeed, three of the five defeats that Yorkshire have suffered in 72 Championship matches under first-team coach Jason Gillespie – a record that tends to provide a certain perspective – have come against Middlesex.

The others were against Sussex in the opening game of 2013, and against Durham at Scarborough later that summer.

If the first of those two defeats against Middlesex could be attributed to unusual circumstances, this could not be so easily excused. In April 2014, Yorkshire found themselves on the wrong end of a freak run-chase as the hosts improbably knocked off 472, Chris Rogers scoring a brilliant double hundred.

Last year’s defeat came in the game in which Yorkshire mathematically confirmed the Championship on the opening day, which may or may not have contributed to their subsequent demise.

This match, however, provided no such mitigation; Yorkshire were neither on the wrong end of a brilliant individual performance nor mentally hungover – just beaten by the better side.

For much of a final day on which Middlesex sealed victory by an innings and four runs at 5.25pm, remarkably Yorkshire’s first innings defeat in a Championship game at Scarborough, you could have heard a pin drop at North Marine Road.

As a rule, the place is positively alive with activity – particularly, of course, when Yorkshire are on top. But, yesterday, pretty much the only thing you could hear was the squawk of seagulls and the sound of fingernails being bitten to the quick.

It betrayed the fact that Yorkshire were struggling; it was not a sound that you very often hear.

Near-silence set in practically from the moment that Steve Patterson dropped Toby Roland-Jones at long-leg off Jack Brooks with just nine runs added to the overnight score.

Middlesex, who resumed on 470-8, led by 73 at that stage, a figure that was to rise remarkably to 171 by the time Yorkshire eventually wrapped up the innings after 40 minutes’ play.

The hosts conceded 107 runs in 9.4 overs at the start of the morning as Toby Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh stretched their ninth-wicket stand from 26 overnight to 123.

At one stage, the swashbuckling duo hit six sixes in seven balls, each maximum greeted through gritted teeth by the Scarborough patrons.

Roland-Jones, who scored his solitary hundred against Yorkshire at Lord’s last year, even did half a Garry Sobers by taking Brooks for three successive sixes at the start of an over.

Murtagh clubbed spinner Azeem Rafiq for two maximums, and although the batsmen rode their luck, they also played some excellent shots.

The mayhem ended when Andrew Gale tossed the ball to Adam Lyth, who had Murtagh caught and bowled for 47 and last man Steven Finn caught at cover for a golden duck. Roland-Jones finished unbeaten on 79 from 51 balls with six fours and six sixes, and then he reduced Yorkshire to 47-2 shortly before lunch, having Lyth caught at third slip and Kane Williamson held behind.

Yorkshire lost two wickets with the score on 63, Alex Lees unlucky when he turned a ball from spinner Ollie Rayner that struck Nick Gubbins at short-leg to be caught by wicketkeeper John Simpson, and Gary Ballance caught behind off a rising delivery from Finn.

Gale was out for seven for the second time in the match when he was caught by Simpson off Rayner, but Tim Bresnan and Will Rhodes gave Yorkshire hope in a sixth-wicket stand of 47.

But Rhodes flicked at the sixth ball after tea and was caught behind, Bresnan was bowled by one that kept low, Andrew Hodd and Patterson were taken at second slip, and Brooks was last out caught at first slip with 15 overs of the contest remaining.