Middlesex and Northants deliver perfect high-octane thrills to fill Ashes gap

If, since Sunday, you’ve felt bereft without the rollicking roller coaster ride of The Ashes, then Merchant Taylors School was the place to be today for your replacement adrenaline rush. After a third day that had for long periods crawled somnambulantly forwards before belatedly bursting into life, this final day began with the clatter of the last three Northants wickets to set Middlesex up with a chase of 323.

Knowing the huge value of a win to both sides in the Division One relegation scrap, it was a surprise that Northants chose to continue their innings, seeking the additional insurance that a late swing may have provided on a pitch that had become rather more placid in the latter half of the match. As it was, there was not much swinging in the 12 balls it took to increase their overnight score of 372 by just 8 runs for the loss of McManus and Sanderson to Tom Helm and Emilio Gay to a Bamber run out.

A quick look at the history of first-class cricket at Merchant Taylors shows the only chase of note was by Worcestershire last year when Ed Pollock’s fourth innings destruction derby 133 from 77 balls led the Pears to 238 and a 7 – wicket victory.

Middlesex signalled their intent from the off, promoting the gun white ball skills of Stevie Eskinazi to open with Mark Stoneman. A brave move in more ways than one given the severely bruised finger he was nursing and alas, having faced just five balls for four runs, that troublesome finger sustained in field on Day 1 sent him ruefully back to the pavilion in search of ice and solace. How different things may have been had he stayed, sadly for Middlesex fans, is something they will never know. However, the not out departure of Eskinazi bought Sam Robson the crease. Just as Sam Whiteman had stood and delivered a second innings century for the visitors it felt as though Middlesex too would need someone to post three figures if they were to chase down their target. Robson’s tentative start against the new ball didn’t initially suggest he would be the second Sam to get to a century, but once settled, he provided the firmest of foundations around which Middlesex built, ultimately inching them to the very edge of a heroic victory. Not that anything like that seemed likely as Stoneman and Malan fell in successive balls to the impressive Ben Sanderson The first to a full ball that kept a little low, the second a jaffa to pin back the unfortunate Pieter Malan’s off stump. Max Holden suddenly found himself at the crease but worked the ball off his hip with undue alarm to restore order.

From there, Middlesex began to find both resolve, momentum and belief. Holden on 37 had looked assured before Keogh turned one just enough to clip his bails, but 35th birthday boy John Simpson was in fine touch and he and Robson accelerated the innings to where all at Merchant Taylors could sense victory for Middlesex was a real possibility. Together, they put on 150 to take the home side to within 88 of their target. One, however, brings two as they say and sure enough, when Simpson fell driving aerially to be held by Proctor teetering perilously close to the long on boundary, Higgins, for once this season, fell soon after for just 5, held by the debutant Broad at midwicket off Proctor.

Were WinViz to have had its dubious eye on this match it may well then have swung its percentage calculation back in the Northamptonshire’s favour, but that would have reckoned without Middlesex captain Toby Roland Jones. Never one likely to die wondering where a chase is concerned, he rapidly bludgeoned a thrilling 34 off just 18 balls, finding the boundary four times, three of which safely sailed over it. Suddenly a long shot chase looked well in view and the fickle Win Viz would have been lurching back towards the home side. Alas, imbued with a sense of invincibility, reality bit in the shape of Emilio Gay who safely held a Rojo skier to leave Middlesex 40 shy and 6 wickets down.

He would be the last wicket to fall though as Robson reached his ton and powered on, well supported by Josh De Caries. Despite valiant efforts though, Northants were canny in the field and there are no restrictions to favour batters. They even declined the new ball, soundly reasoning that a soft Kookaburra would travel less far and fast then a new one. Ultimately that worked as a boundary in the 89th over proved to be the last Middlesex could muster. The final twenty-two deliveries saw the intrepid Robson and De Caries work the ball to all parts running themselves to a standstill with ones and twos, but crucially not the one three that would have won the game. With three needed off the last ball, two were run and the scores were level. Breathless and brilliant excitement for the crowd. Huge frustration for Middlesex, relief for Northants.

With the scores level, Middlesex have some consolation that as the side batting last with scores tied, they gain an extra three points, finishing with 12 to the 8 of their visitors. There is much work to do if they are to overhaul Kent and pull themselves clear of the drop.

Rather than reflect on that though, as The Ashes, both Mens and Womens, delivers edge of seat, high octane thrills to win the hearts of new cricket fans, two Championship counties mired in a relegation tussle at Merchant Taylors showed that it’s not just the Test game that can set pulses racing.

1 Comment

  1. A super report on the final day’s play at Merchant Taylor’s School which vividly demonstrates why the county championship is the most exciting format to follow in this country. In my opinion, at least!

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