Reflecting on the impetuosity of youth and the infirmities of age (both mental and physical), Sigmund Freud succinctly lamented “If youth knew. If age could”.
A more positive view of aging is that “Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old”. If that sounds a little Kafkaesque, it’s allowed to be, opined as it was by Franz Kafka.
Pablo Picasso was altogether more succinct. “Youth has no age”. ‘
Which brings us rather neatly to Lords and what some are already billing as a ‘32 pointer’, between Middlesex and Kent where both ends of the cricketing age spectrum are on display. No Darren Stevens now for Kent alas, but the most senior bowler for each team, Tim Murtagh and Michael Hogan together total a grand age approaching 83. At the other end of the age spectrum, Ethan Bamber is still a youth at just 24, but when Murtagh was rested for the thrilling victory against Notts, Bamber it was who was entrusted as caretaker of Murtagh’s beloved Nursery End, bagging six wickets in the process including Haseeb Hameed twice and should have had Duckett for 0 too.
There is clear evidence of Murtagh’s mentorship with Bamber, acknowledged with a grateful smile by the latter saying “he’s a massive person that I’ve lent on, and he now has an official guru role and is so fantastic with people”. Together here, they looked a formidable combination, equally sharing 8 Kent wickets for 82, barely a sliver of paper to slide between them. Both bowled 17 overs, with Murtagh’s 4/40 just shading Bamber’s 4/42.
As well as enjoying the benefit of Tim Murtagh’s tutelage, Bamber had also wintered in Australia looking to grow his experience at Adelaide University Cricket Club. Early season form back in North London suggest a very positive impact from his time there.
It was the older sorcerer, rather than apprentice who took early centre stage though after Middlesex had elected to bowl. Every ounce of Murtagh’s skill and experience was displayed with a classic three card trick to dismiss England opener Zak Crawley for 11. Two balls moved away before an off cutter nipped back up the hill and through the gap offered by Crawley’s expansive drive.
Middlesex have recently been cast in the role of examiners for incumbent England openers. Ben Duckett passed his MOT at Lords last week with 177 for Notts. Crawley will be very glad to have posted his 170 against Essex. England and particularly coach Brendon McCullum have been staunch in their endorsement of Crawley’s potential to take the game to the opposition and post quick runs, whilst tolerant of failures, seeing them as an acceptable downside of the risk/reward equation. The comparison with his fellow Kent opener Ben Compton, who’s grandfather made a few runs at Lords of course, could not be starker. Compton was limpet like and measured in top scoring for Kent with his 52, but at a what some would perhaps unkindly consider a rate too glacial to fit England’s attack minded philosophy. He was ultimately undone by a sharp rising delivery from Murtagh’s young pretender Bamber.
After an early curtailment on day 1, Middlesex wrapped up the Kent’s first innings for 186 before lunch on this second day and will feel vindicated in their decision to field. Murtagh and Bamber each had an England scalp to their name, Compton for Bamber Billings for Murtagh to end what could have been a decent Compton Billings partnership, or indeed the name of an English village or West Indian cricketer .
As ever, the old adage of knowing what represents a good score only after both teams have batted was quickly evident as Middlesex’s top order again showed the frailty that has dogged them this season. Given the licence to take risks facing a set target against Notts, their excellent positivity had been rewarded. Without that clear target in mind, a similar positive approach was too often undone as Kent’s attack six times found edges before tea. Four of them flew into the gloves of Billings with a catch each for Crawley and Cox. Jordan Cox removed Stoneman after the ball had been parried up into the air by fellow slip Crawley. Perhaps only Simpson may reflect on having been genuinely undone by a vicious delivery and that was from Kent’s senior citizen Hogan, who is by 63 days senior to Murtagh. Fellow Australian Wes Agar found lift and movement aligned to relentless accuracy to remove both Stoneman and Robson, although the latter did reach 20 for the first time this season. Stewart drew loose shots from Holden and Pieter Malan and Matt Quinn from Middlesex captain Eskinazi.
Things could have been very bleak indeed for Middlesex, but for Ryan Higgins, who is rapidly taking on the role of Red Adair, parachuting in to pull Middlesex from the flames of top order collapses. Yet again, the tousled terror cut, pulled and drove to establish control for his team and for the fourth consecutive first innings passed 50 making an increasingly aggressive 71. One huge pull only just evaded Crawley on the midwicket boundary for his second maximum, but in trying to repeat the performance he finally holed out to Hogan at long-on off Wes Agar. Along the way, Luke Holman (32) and Tom Helm (20) had provided excellent support to see Middlesex past Kent’s total and ultimately with a some late Murtagh and Bamber frolics taking them tantalisingly close to a batting point, Murtagh the last to fall with Middlesex on 229 a small, but potentially precious lead of 43.
Late in the day is never the most comfortable time for opening batters, but the calamitous start to Kent’s second innings still came as a surprise. Murtagh was on fire, but no need for Red Adair this time as Crawley edged the very first ball of the Kent reply to Eskinazi at first slip and then Bell Drummond was LBW to one that wobbled every which way off the second. 0 for 2 and no redemption for Crawley. No hattrick either for the Lambeth Larwood though, averted solidly enough by Jack Leaning.
From there, sorcerer and apprentice had appeals aplenty, but no more wickets and Kent closed on 40/2, Leaning and the immovable Compton ready to resume just 3 runs short of Middlesex. Beautifully poised to attract a holiday weekend crowd.