By Anthony K
It is something of a truism to describe the County Championship as an extension of community mental health provision, but the casual visitor with a love of cricket and an interest in human foible would have been well rewarded at Headquarters these last four days. Simon, who sits happily filling out the scorecard and seems normal enough, likes to record the time taken between mile markers on long train journeys. An eccentric pastime certainly, but harmless enough. Donald, who likes to re-arrange the names of tube and railway stations and is prone to shouting “Ramble Rach” on the approach to Marble Arch, to the understandable consternation of the uninitiated among his fellow passengers, is in dubious territory, while Graham, whose go-to move is to place his bag away from his seat on public transport, in the hope that women will stumble and he can help them regain their balance, is entitled to the benefit of no doubt whatsoever. Jimmy’s habit of giving his neighbour a conspiratorial dig in the ribs before handing out black and white photos of old cricketers, breathing heavily through his nose and looking uncannily like Heartbeat-era Bill Maynard, seems positively endearing by comparison. A man of contrasts, his opinion is said to be highly sought after when an expert eye needs to be cast over an item of cricketing memorabilia, but nor is he a stranger to taking his luggage for an early morning walk when the hotel bill is yet to be paid.
51allout’s companions in St John’s Wood – Michael, Harriett and Sam – are mercifully free of these idiosyncrasies and just like to watch cricket in the sunshine. They were very kind and welcoming to us and we thank them for marking our card about the dangerous regulars lurking a few seats away in the Compton Upper. Together we enjoyed four days of brilliant cricket: a wonderful advert for the Championship, if not for Joe Root’s credentials as a Future England Captain. Indeed, a good game for Andrew Gale to miss, the sly old viper.
Sunday brought a terrible weather forecast and constant cloud cover, but two and a half sessions were played, the last 19 overs being lost to bad light and then rain. Yorkshire stumbled, in Liam Plunkett’s case blasted, to 178 all out; Root returning to action for the first time since a finger injury sustained on England’s limited overs tour of the West Indies and being given a torrid time by the excellent Steven Finn, who got him lbw for 0. Middlesex exploited the conditions well and only Plunkett, with a rumbustious 56 not out at better than a run a ball, and Adam Lyth, who ought to have felt very disappointed to give it away when in total control on 35, were able to break the shackles. It is to Yorkshire’s great credit that they came out and produced a very intense bowling and fielding effort, with Ryan Sidebottom very much to the fore. 64-3 at the close, Middlesex were suffocated throughout, subsiding to 123 all out on day two.
Buoyed by their lead, Yorkshire made a much better fist of things second time around. Lyth and Alex Lees laid a solid foundation, Root made an increasingly fluent 63 before Finn got him lbw again and the lower order were able to offer some support to Gary Ballance, who progressed carefully to 50 and then brutally to 130 as he ran out of partners, eventually holing out to third man after a savage assault on Ollie Rayner in particular. Fear of a points deduction for poor over rates kept Finn away from the attack for much of the third morning and early afternoon, when the violence was really done. Middlesex could do with addressing this failing, as being unable to call on the services of by far their best bowler may cost them decisively in future, as it seemed to have done here.
The home side set off in mid-afternoon in pursuit of a 472 target that appeared to mandate the use of the word notional. Of course, a side that has just been bowled out for 123 is obviously never going to get anywhere near completing such a mountainous task, so we all acknowledged the inevitability of a resounding defeat for the home side, while the expectant and triumphant cries of the away support filled the air. But then, to universal acclaim, even if some of it might have been a touch grudging from a few, Chris Rogers played surely one of the most remarkable innings ever seen even on this illustrious ground: the very definition of a captain’s knock. Mercilessly severe on a Yorkshire attack carrying some big reputations, he cut, pulled, drove and yet also finessed his way to an extraordinary 241* from only 290 balls. Ably supported first by England hopeful Sam Robson and later by Dawid Malan and Neil Dexter, who blossomed late on to record an invaluable 72*, he took Middlesex home with astonishing ease in a little over 100 overs. He also batted with Eoin Morgan.
To sit opposite the pavilion at Lord’s in the sunshine while some kind of history is made before you is a beautiful thing, but it can warp a man’s mind. Years of trying to get Editor Steve to sign off expense claims has led 51allout staffers to believe that they are made of stern stuff, but barely an hour after the close, the Trainline website was being checked for trains to the Midlands, with Middlesex facing Warwickshire next week at Edgbaston. Harriet and Sam say it’s a slippery slope and before you know how it happened, you’re on the 9.11 to Mirbingham Strew Neet with Donald and helping Simon with the stopwatch. Perhaps somebody would be kind enough to call a nurse and tell her to mind that bag in the aisle.