In the most thrilling of finishes, Middlesex beat Leicestershire by one run with nine balls left to keep alive their admittedly slender chances of beating Warwickshire, who are 15 points ahead of them, to the Championship title.
Both sides have one more match to play; Middlesex face Somerset at Taunton and Warwickshire visit Kent at Canterbury.
An extraordinary afternoon was made possible by an inspired declaration by Mike Gatting, who left Leicestershire to score 251 in what turned out to be 74 overs. They kept going to the end for the win they so nearly achieved, but were undone by the Middlesex spinners Phillip Tufnell and John Emburey, who shared nine wickets.
At first, it looked as if Gatting might have been over-generous in setting the target. It was important, though, that he should give his bowlers as much time as possible to take 10 wickets - on all previous evidence at Park Road, two full sessions was little enough.
Leicestershire began well, scoring 32 in nine overs before Vince Wells pushed across the line at a ball from Angus Fraser that kept a trifle low and was bowled. In the next over, Darren Maddy pushed defensively at Emburey and was quickly caught by John Carr at slip.
This brought in Hanse Cronje, whose footwork against the spinners was a delight. Even so, when on nine he should have been caught at short mid- wicket off Emburey. Cronje and James Whitaker made it look as if Leicestershire would have no difficulty in winning the match, let alone saving it.
They had put on 95 in 19 overs when Cronje played back to Tufnell, who had just begun to bowl over the wicket, and the ball turned and hit his off-stump. Eight runs later, Ben Smith pushed forward with firm wrists to Tufnell and was caught at silly mid-off.
Leicestershire were 145 for 4 at tea and the game was nicely balanced. But, four overs later, Whitaker tried to work Emburey to leg and was caught at forward short. After that, the odds were against Leicestershire holding on and Jonathan Dakin was soon leg before sweeping to give Emburey his 100th first-class wicket at Uxbridge.
Just before the last 20 overs began, Paul Nixon tried to steer Emburey to third man and was caught behind. The final equation was that, with Leicestershire 203 for 7, Middlesex needed three wickets from these 20 overs and Leicestershire 48 runs. Two overs later, Gordon Parsons lost patience and swung at Tufnell, who took 10 wickets in the match, and was bowled.
Adrian Pierson and Matthew Brimson stayed together for 82 balls, taking Leicestershire to within 14 runs of victory, before Brimson swung at Tufnell and was bowled. Four were needed from the last two overs; Alan Mullally collected two to mid-off with the help of an overthrow before sweeping at Tufnell and skying to Emburey at deep square leg.
In the morning, Mark Ramprakash helped himself to his second century of the match, in 69 balls, and became the first batsman to reach 2,000 runs this year - against the friendliest of bowling as Leicestershire aided and abetted the final declaration which was so perfectly judged.
It always seems faintly distasteful when a crucial contest comes to this with rubbishy bowling to produce a declaration. Doubtless the captains had set their own agendas, and they produced the most fascinating afternoon's cricket. All but the most cynical will surely argue that the ends justify the means.Reuse content