Middlesex v Yorkshire: Tim Bresnan ensures champions' hat-trick hopes are kept alive
IF Tim Bresnan was a stick of seaside rock, the word 'Yorkshire' would run through it from top to bottom.
He is as Yorkshire as the county’s white rose; it is impossible to imagine him coming from any other county.
Yesterday, Bresnan produced one of the greatest innings produced by a Yorkshire cricketer.
It was great because of the circumstances in which it was compiled, with the Championship itself on the line, and with the hopes of the Broad Acres resting on Bresnan’s broad shoulders.
Bresnan’s unbeaten 142, crafted in just over seven and a half hours of fierce concentration, turned a treacherous-looking position into what could well be a title-winning one.
When he arrived at the crease the previous day, Yorkshire were 32-3 after three of the four specialist batsmen that they are fielding in this game were blown away for ducks.
Bresnan, batting at the unaccustomed heights of No 5, so that the champions could include an extra bowler, found himself exposed to even greater pressure than would normally be the case.
By the time the Yorkshire first innings ended yesterday at tea on day three, he had helped them to 390 and a lead of 120, Middlesex reaching 81-2 at stumps to bring Yorkshire’s dream of a title hat-trick tantalisingly closer.
In addition to the fact that Yorkshire have to win this game to make that a reality, with a draw not good enough to overtake Middlesex, the day was played out to an intriguing sub-plot.
Because of Somerset’s win over Notts at Taunton, Yorkshire also had to score at least 350 in their first innings to obtain the four batting bonus points needed to overhaul Somerset.
Such riches seemed a long way off at 32-3, and not much closer at 204-6, but Bresnan and Azeem Rafiq (65) gave Yorkshire hope by extending their overnight stand from 31 to 114.
Rafiq fell to leave Yorkshire 318-7, which became 334-9 when Steve Patterson and Jack Brooks were dismissed either side of lunch, but Bresnan guided the champions to the crucial figure in the company of last man Ryan Sidebottom, who whipped Toby Roland-Jones to the long-leg boundary to bring up the 350.
Until that moment, prolonged by an hour’s break for bad weather with the score impossibly stuck on 349-9, the tension had been evocative of the 2005 Ashes.
Sidebottom had survived an lbw shout against Roland-Jones with the total on 349, and every run brought loud cheers from a large Yorkshire contingent.
“The bonus point’s finest hour,” remarked a bloke in the press box.
One of the competition’s finest hours, he might have added.
As well as Bresnan and Rafiq played in the day’s early stages, Yorkshire were also assisted by abject fielding.
The visitors had added 22 to their overnight 235-6 when Rafiq, on 33, uppercut Steven Finn to third man, where Nick Compton spilled his second straightforward catch of the innings.
When Rafiq had 38, he was dropped again by Ollie Rayner at second slip off James Franklin, which would have exposed a new batsman before the second new ball.
As it was, Rafiq was still there to herald its arrival by reaching a gutsy half-century, raised from 78 deliveries with nine boundaries.
Moments later, Bresnan, 72 overnight, advanced to his sixth first-class hundred when he clipped Murtagh for three through mid-wicket in the direction of the Grand Stand.
The celebration was unmistakable but still suitably understated, for Bresnan recognised that there was still much work to do.
Rafiq’s work was done, however, when Murtagh bowled him through the gate, before Patterson edged to second slip and Brooks picked out mid-on.
Bresnan and Sidebottom added 56 for the last wicket before Sidebottom was bowled giving Rayner the charge, having resisted for just under an hour and a half.
So far had shifted the balance of power in the game, one would not have put it past Yorkshire running through Middlesex before close of play.
That was always unlikely on a flat pitch, however, but the champions could not have made a much better start with two wickets inside the opening four overs.
Former England opener Sam Robson bagged a pair when Sidebottom removed him with the last delivery of the first over, caught at third slip by Alex Lees, and Brooks produced a jaffa to bowl Nick Compton with the final ball of the fourth over, shaping one away to take the off stump.
It was Brooks’s 60th wicket of the Championship campaign, the third successive year he has achieved that feat.
Yorkshire will hope that it proves to be a good omen.
The last day of the season will bring history or heartbreak.