Cherchez la femme for Middlesex and Yorkshire at Lords as Higgins prospers

The Dukes ball was back in the hands of bowlers and England’s aristocrats Joe Root and Harry Brook were at Lords to face it, but disappointment and no little ire has overshadowed this week for both Middlesex and Yorkshire.  Toby Roland Jones and his attack may have been looking for wickets, but the phrase ‘Cherchez la femme’ hung as heavy as the April clouds over the home of cricket for both counties.

As much as they wanted to heed the advice of Alexandre Dumas in ‘Les Mohicans de Paris’, there will be pas une femme à trouver  at either Lords or Headingley in 2025 as the ECB has chosen to overlook both historic counties in their Tier 1 revamp of the English women’s professional game. In response Middlesex, who had the backing of the MCC and Yorkshire who have been home to the Northern Diamonds,  have expressed their strongest disappointment. Whatever the ECB party line may be, one suspects they may well feel that for differing reasons, Yorkshire and Middlesex have a need to focus on other areas.

And so, amidst background chatter on the rights and wrongs of the ECB’s decisions for the Women’s game, the men of Middlesex and Yorkshire focused on the immediate matter in hand.

Another Roland Jones hat-trick – this one with a coin though

For all Middlesex faithful, this fixture will recall Toby Roland Jones’ famous Championship winning hat-trick of 2016 and it was another hat-trick of sorts that started the day for Roland Jones. Now, in his role as captain, for the third consecutive time this season he won the toss. Having elected to field first twice previously, armed with the Kookaburra ball, it was scarcely a shock that he did so again under cloud with the prouder seamed Dukes at his disposal.

For a while, Roland Jones and Ethan Bamber probed without success.  However, after a flurry of appeals and close calls, it was certainly a little bit more than just ‘Dukes’ nibble’ from Roland Jones that jagged back up the hill to trap Adam Lyth.

A ring of five slips closed in as Middlesex were happy to concede runs in the hunt for further wickets, no doubt wanting to be bowling at Joe Root and then Harry Brook while the Dukes ball was hard and it’s nibble still nibbly. The clouds finally deposited their load and heavy rain brought an extended lunch.

However, when the sun returned, Middlesex got their wish. Roland Jones again got the ball to move up the hill and through the defences of the impressive Finlay Bean to have Yorkshire 64 for 2 and bring the familiar figure of Root loping to the crease.

Last June, Joe had rhetorically asked “Am I really going to be prepared better for an Ashes series facing lower-pace bowling on some nibbly wickets?”. Based on today it would hard to tell as he had only made five before somewhat lazily steering one that moved away from Tom Helm straight to Ryan Higgins at gulley. A very decent first wicket of the season for Helm and it wasn’t long before Root’s England colleague Harry Brook followed. Like Roland Jones earlier, Ethan Bamber got the ball to move in up the hill and Brook’s drive flew off an edge to du Plooy at slip. Bamber had his former England under 19 teammate and Middlesex had Root and Brook for a combined total of 8. One doubts Rob Key will be fretting unduly, but when the Yorkshire pair return in July to face the West Indies, he will certainly be wanting a few more.

Moriarty – the Napoleon of crime

With Middlesex tails up and Dukes ball pitched up, Shan Masood, Jonathan Tattershall and Jordan Thompson quickly fell, all LBW, the first to Bamber, the others to Ryan Higgins who then nipped one back to bowl George Hill. Yorkshire had lost five wickets for just thirty- four runs before Hill and Ben Coad had shown some resistance. Coad soon fell to Higgins, leaving the last pair of Edwards and Moriarty. With the floodlights now shining brightly down instead of the sun, could Moriarty extinguish Middlesex’s fire on the ground where his namesake’s creator, Sir Athur Conan Doyle, had famously set himself aflame?*  “He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson” said Sherlock Holmes of Moriarty, but here at Lords he met his Waterloo in the shape Toby Roland Jones (or should that be Toby Roland Holmes) and Yorkshire’s innings was done for 159.

That, of course, meant that at ten to five, with lights piercing the gloom, Middlesex would need to test their technique and resolve in bowler friendly conditions. The left-handed opening pair of Mark Stoneman and Nathan Fernandes are the epitome of youth and experience. The young pretender Fernandes had made an impressive ton on debut at Wantage Road, but had reached just 6 when Jordan Thompson nipped one down the slope and through a sizable gap between his bat and pad.

Max Holden had made a double ton in the same game, but he too found Lords and the Dukes quite literally a different ball game, edging a riser from Mickey Edwards behind for 12. Almost inevitably, with that, the umpires blinked into the gloom and decided that was enough as the rain also returned. Middlesex two down for 37 and that, appeared to be that. Except it wasn’t. Once again, the rain cleared and the lights did their job. Yorkshire sensed their opportunity and Middlesex had little to gain and much to lose.

Had Leus du Plooy not crossed the white line following the fall of Holden, Middlesex might just have considered sending in a night watchman. As it was, they need not have worried. He and the excellent Mark Stoneman, the day’s top scorer, survived without undue alarm to leave Middlesex on 84 for 2, seventy five runs behind.

Excellent bowling and the Dukes ball had done its work for them.  A fat lady may have been singing somewhere. It’s a huge shame for Middlesex that she is the only woman set to perform at Lords for a while.

*If you don’t know the story of Sir Arthur’s combustion at the home of cricket, you can read it here: