Middlesex ended Sussex’s unbeaten record in Championship Division One by completing a ten-wicket win in short order on the final morning at Hove, a result that reinvigorates their title challenge and strengthens Yorkshire’s position as favourites.
Yorkshire returned to the top with a crushing defeat of Derbyshire at Chesterfield on Friday, which gives them a seven-point lead over Sussex with a match in hand as they attempt to mark their 150th anniversary with a first Championship in 12 years.
Despite a magnificent 161 by Luke Wright, who defied the pain of an injured knee, Sussex were bowled out for 310 in their second innings after resuming on 288 for six.
Corey Collymore and Tim Murtagh shared the final four wickets, leaving Middlesex needing only 43 to win. The 18 runs by Sam Robson, as he and Dawid Malan finished the job in nine overs, leaves the Australian-born opener 14 runs short of becoming the first to 1,000 runs in the Championship this season.
Yorkshire’s position as favourites owes much to the depth of their batting. They have totalled 400 or more seven times, drawing on a squad that enables them to routinely pick eight genuine batsmen. There is also a production line of academy talent that has seen 20-year-old batsman Alex Lees emerge as a frighteningly good prospect, and is supplying five of the 14 players for England’s Under-19s in a one-day series against Bangladesh and Pakistan later this month.
Spearheaded by Steve Magoffin and Chris Jordan, both close to 50 wickets, Sussex have the most potent seam bowling attack, but they have not had the support they expected from Monty Panesar in the spin department with the England left-armer unable to find any consistency.
Yorkshire have plenty of seam options with Jack Brooks and Liam Plunkett now fit, and the return of off-spinner Azeem Rafiq, who was sidelined by a knee injury earlier in the summer, gives them an alternative – or addition – to Adil Rashid.
Durham’s credentials have attracted less interest than the front-runners but with games in hand and a strong record by their seamers at Chester-le-Street they cannot be discounted. The progress made by Mark Stoneman and Keaton Jennings had enabled them to refresh an ageing batting line-up, in which the promotion of leg-spinning all-rounder Scott Borthwick to No 3 in the batting order looks a masterstroke by the coach Geoff Cook, who seems to be on the mend, happily, after suffering a serious heart attack last month.
Middlesex, who have been unlucky that winter signing James Harris has rarely been fit, look a little too reliant on Murtagh to bowl sides out, and Warwickshire, who have a genuine match-winning slow bowler in Jeetan Patel, must manage without strike bowler Chris Wright.
Yorkshire meet Warwickshire in Leeds, Middlesex take on Durham at Lord’s and Sussex face doomed Derbyshire at Hove in the next round of Championship matches on 2 August before the closing phase of the title race begins on 20 August with the season stretching well into the last week in September.
In Division Two, an innings victory over wooden spoon favourites Leicestershire kept Essex just about in touch with leaders Lancashire but Worcestershire’s promotion hopes suffered a setback when they lost to Gloucestershire at Cheltenham.