On Friday, Middlesex won their first County Championship title in 23 years.
As a Middlesex girl, I’d seen my fair share of county championship games but this decider-game at the Home of Cricket between Yorkshire and Middlesex was one that excited me almost as much as watching India does. The title was still up for grabs, a three-way contest between Yorkshire (who needed 350 in the first innings and a win), Middlesex (who needed a win) and Somerset (who needed them to draw).
Middlesex had set Yorkshire a first innings target of 270 but to stay in the county race, they needed to get to 350 runs within 110 overs. It was in true dramatic style that a 10th wicket partnership between Tim Bresnan and Ryan Sidebottom saw Yorkshire over the 350 mark (with an hours break at 349) and gave the defending champions a 120 run lead.
A 200 run partnership between Nick Gubbins and Dawid Malan meant the game was looking more like a draw and more like a win for Somerset who had beaten Nottinghamshire by a resounding 325 runs. The two well-matched teams were still neck and neck battling it out by lunch on day four to no avail.
So they decided to get a result. Neither team benefitted from a draw so the two teams agreed to intervene. Both sides agreed on an equation. One that would allow Middlesex to set a target for Yorkshire to chase – almost nullifying the first two innings to set up a sort of one-day decider.
240 in 40. That was the agreed target between captains James Franklin and Andrew Gale. The target that Yorkshire needed to chase down for the title. They had agreed to speed up the game for half an hour and allow Middlesex to reach a lead of 240.
To achieve this situation however, Yorkshire had to serve up balls on a silver platter. Their opening batsmen Adam Lyth and Alex Lees came on to bowl and were dispatched for 128 runs in 11.5 overs at an RR of 10.82. Boundary after boundary came with the odd wicket inexplicably falling here and there. Brooks standing at square-leg held a catch of Lees’ bowling that he appeared to really not want to take and Lyth held a caught and bowled. The players were smiling unsure about how to react to such a debacle.
The teams were artificially creating a result, not to specifically benefit/sabotage each other but to push the game along. They did not together decide on who would win but they did ensure someone would win. Was it legitimate and in the spirit of the game? Would a draw have been the right thing to do? To have the game wane and taper off (in favour of Somerset) with the knowledge and ability to do something about it? Both teams were prepared to lay it all out there for the chance to win so they took the game into their own hands.
Middlesex declared on 239. With 40 overs to go it seemed like a very generous target especially in modern day cricket but it appeared all too much for Yorkshire. A small enough target to entice but a long enough game for the batsmen to think twice.
The equation moved to 153 off 20, then 87 off 10 and Toby Roland-Jones took the game home for Middlesex with a hat-trick to remove Yorkshire’s lower order and win them the County Championship title after 23 years, dashing the dreams of two other counties in the last and final over of the 2016 season. Any other game and the teams might have blocked it out for a draw but this was an all or nothing situation. Both teams had done their part and a game that was at an impasse was brought back to life.
However with the county championship decider being manipulated into a result are we likely to see more controlled target setting and match handling? Will it change the four-day game in the future? For the better?