THERE are those who feel that England director of cricket Andrew Strauss has already done his bit to thwart Yorkshire’s bid for a third successive title by denying the club permission to play Jonny Bairstow in this match.
How ironic, then, that a player billed as the next Strauss – and one who regards the former Middlesex and England batsman as his mentor – frustrated Yorkshire on the opening day of a game that they must win to achieve their dream of a hat-trick of Championships.
Nick Gubbins, a former Leeds university student who, like Strauss, is an old boy of Radley College, hit an unbeaten 120 as leaders Middlesex scored 208-5 after Yorkshire took up the right of the visiting team to bowl first.
It was a fourth Championship hundred of the season to go with eight fifties for a man who made his first-class debut for Leeds-Bradford MCCU against Yorkshire at Headingley three years ago, and it was unlikely to have been received with riotous celebration by his friends up north.
Nor was it received with anything greater than muted appreciation by the Yorkshire fielders, who were convinced that Gubbins should have been given out for 96, caught down the leg-side off Ryan Sidebottom.
Television replays suggested that there was a slight snick, and Gubbins hardly endeared himself further to the former England left-armer when he pulled him for six in his next over towards the Grand Stand to reach three figures.
It would be a sporting batsman indeed who walks to a faint leg-side tickle in a title showdown, assuming that Gubbins realised that he hit the ball.
The popular wisdom is that one does not always know in such circumstances, but there was little doubt among the visiting players, who had worked hard to see the back of the 22-year-old left-hander.
That incident straight after tea notwithstanding, Yorkshire did not always help themselves on a day when they bowled some good stuff but fielded indifferently. They started promisingly, reducing Middlesex to 57-3 beneath suffocatingly leaden skies in north London, before failing to build strongly on that promising platform.
The champions dropped three catches of varying difficulty, with Gubbins crucially reprieved on 22 when he was spilled at backward-point by Azeem Rafiq off Steve Patterson.
Rafiq, whom Yorkshire announced yesterday morning has agreed a new one-year contract, failed to cling on to a firm cut, which he parried in the air and then just failed to reach on the rebound as he dived full-length. Two balls earlier, Adam Lyth had dropped Dawid Malan at second slip off David Willey, a presentable opportunity low to his right.
Malan did not linger, adding only three more runs, but there was another important miss moments before tea when James Franklin, the Middlesex captain, edged Tim Bresnan to third slip, where the ball went through Gary Ballance’s hands and flew to the boundary. Franklin, who had one to his name, had advanced to 21 before bad light ended play with 14 overs left.
It left first-team coach Jason Gillespie with mixed emotions in his final game in charge. “I thought we bowled really well all day,” said Gillespie.
“I thought the disciplines were excellent, and we’ll bowl worse than that and be rewarded better.
“It would be nice to take the chances (in the field) when they come along, and there were three chances that we should have taken.
“But the lads work really hard on their fielding and catching, and I can’t fault their efforts.”
Gillespie praised Gubbins, who patiently defied a six-man attack.
“He batted wonderfully well,” said Gillespie. “From what everyone says, he might have nicked that one down leg, but that is to take nothing away.
“Look, I think he’s a wonderful player who played a fantastic knock. Full credit to him.”
After Yorkshire omitted Liam Plunkett from their final XI, reasoning that Willey would be more likely to exploit the overhead conditions, Jack Brooks took two wickets in his opening spell.
The pace bowler had Sam Robson lbw for a duck in the fourth over with a full ball angled into his pads and then pinned Nick Compton in the 12th over shouldering arms.
Willey drew an inside edge from Malan into his stumps after the batsman had taken him for three fours in an opening over that went for 15.
Middlesex rallied to 84-3 at lunch, leaving honours, at that stage, just about even.
Gubbins, who accumulated in solid fashion, reached fifty shortly into the afternoon session before losing Stevie Eskinazi, bowled off an inside edge by Brooks.
Bresnan gave Gubbins a torrid working over and claimed a deserved wicket when John Simpson inexplicably left a straight one and was lbw, ending a stand of 57 with Gubbins, whose stand with Franklin has reached 54.
Middlesex v Yorkshire
Lord’s: Yorkshire won toss.
Middlesex First Innings
S D Robson lbw b Brooks 0
N R T Gubbins not out 120
N R D Compton lbw b Brooks 8
D J Malan b Willey 22
S S Eskinazi b Brooks 12
J A Simpson lbw b Bresnan 15
J E C Franklin not out 21
Extras b4 lb4 nb2 10
Total 5 wkts (82 overs) 208
Fall: 1-11 2-33 3-57 4-97 5-154
To Bat: T S Roland-Jones, O P Rayner, S T Finn, T J Murtagh.
Sidebottom 15 7 23 0 Brooks 15 1 45 3 Willey 14 1 54 1 Patterson 17 9 32 0 Bresnan 14 4 31 1 Rafiq 7 1 15 0