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Nine-wicket Harmer helps Essex to dramatic win over Middlesex

PUBLISHED: 08:15 30 June 2017

Essex's Simon Harmer celebrates taking a wicket against Middlesex (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

Essex's Simon Harmer celebrates taking a wicket against Middlesex (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

©TGS Photo tgsphoto.co.uk +44 1376 553468

Simon Harmer took 9-95 to lead Essex to a dramatic penultimate-over victory against Middlesex and extend their lead at the top of the Specsavers County Championship to 29 points.

The sun sets over The Cloudfm County Ground in Chelmsford (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)The sun sets over The Cloudfm County Ground in Chelmsford (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

The South African off-spinner’s match figures of 14-172 was his second 14-wicket haul in successive matches, his fourth successive five-wicket return, and raised his season’s tally to 47 Championship wickets to date.

When he trapped Steven Finn lbw and wheeled away in triumph, there were a maximum of eight balls remaining in the game. Harmer was given a standing ovation when he left the field after claiming new career-best bowling figures.

It gave Essex their third successive Championship win, but for long periods of the final day, it looked as if Nick Compton was going to save the game for a Middlesex side who have now lost two of their last three games.

Compton batted nearly all day for 120 after six hours and 20 minutes at the crease and when he departed, the sixth of Harmer’s wickets, and Chelmsford bathed in floodlight, there were nine overs to go and Middlesex were 252-6, chasing 296 to make Essex bat again.

But four wickets went down in 27 balls as Essex recorded their second innings victory on the trot, following last week’s success over Warwickshire.

It had been a disappointing season for Compton, who had managed just 81 runs in four previous Championship innings this season, with a highest score of 22, after a delayed start due to injury. His 26th career first-class century encompassed 303 balls and contained 14 fours and one six.

Compton, 34 on Monday, was arguably the only batsman who came to terms with Harmer as, unlike many of the South African’s 28 victims over the last 11 days, he showed great respect and wariness.

Apart from an early delivery he left alone as it turned in from outside off-stump, and gave him heart palpitations, Compton treated every ball on its merits.

However, he lost concentration when he played no shot to another from Harmer that started outside off-stump and turned, and departed lbw.

Much, much earlier, Compton tried to hit Harmer out of the attack with a six over long leg. It was the only real show of aggression in his innings, and it failed to get the intended result.

Compton shared a fourth-wicket stand of 153 with Paul Stirling that looked as if it would take the game away from Essex. The pair were immovable for 55 overs as Essex used seven bowlers, some of them rarely seen, in an attempt to split them.

However, they did themselves no favours by twice putting down Stirling to comparatively easy chances.

Earlier it had looked as though Harmer was going to dismiss Middlesex on his own long before the floodlights came on. He took 3-15 from his first 26 deliveries of the day before Compton and Stirling settled into their stride in a stand that showed the off-spinner more respect and wariness than had some of their colleagues.

Harmer made an immediate breakthrough with the first ball after Middlesex had gone through 13 overs unscathed overnight as Nick Gubbins pushed forward to try and kill the turn and only managed to loop it into Alastair Cook’s hands at first slip.

His second wicket wasn’t long in coming as Stevie Eskanazi edged another that turned in on the batsman; it hit Cook in the chest, but he was able to scoop the earth-bound ball across for Varun Chopra to dive full-length and take the catch at leg slip.

In his next over, Harmer had Dawid Malan playing back as if to cut, only to miss the ball completely and lose his bails. Middlesex were 51-3 with around 87 overs still to negotiate.

Compton played watchfully, though when Harmer strayed fractionally off line, the ball was pulled firmly to the mid-wicket boundary on his way to a 111-ball half-century.

Stirling received his first let-off when he had eked out 19, Cook spilling an edge off Paul Walter. The Irishman curbed the natural instincts that had brought him a six-hitting, 50-ball 77 in the first innings; he managed about a quarter of total in his first 50 balls second time around.

But he should have gone in Harmer’s first over of the second session when one popped up to Dan Lawrence at short leg and was grassed.

Harmer’s fury was visible; so was Lawrence’s contrition as he kicked the ground in frustration, sending a plume of dust into the air. Stirling was 24 at the time.

Reprieved, the pair continued to prosper and raised their stand to 100 in 36 overs. Compton reached three-figures from 232 balls when he turned Harmer to mid-wicket shortly before the end of the second session. He had hit 12 fours and a six.

Stirling went to his fifty from 137 balls with a six over long-leg off Lawrence, but perished in the next over, caught at leg slip by Ravi Bopara to give Harmer wicket number four.

John Simpson joined Compton in his marathon vigil and they nudged runs past the six-man close-catching cordon in a stand of 35 before the ball angled off the wicketkeeper’s bat to give Cook another catch at slip and Harmer yet another wicket.

When the final hour was signalled at 8pm, five more wickets were required and Middlesex needed 49 runs to pass the 296 to make Essex bat again. After Compton’s departure, the furthest of Essex’s fielders was 20 yards from the bat.

As the game entered its denouement, Ryan Higgins edged Harmer to slip, and in the same over Ollie Rayner was trapped lbw as 261-6 became 261-8 in the space of four balls.

A third wicket went down for no additional score as Lawrence prevented Harmer taking all 10 wickets when he had Toby Roland-Jones lbw.

There were six minutes of the last hour remaining, and two minutes on the clock when Steven Finn played a half-hearted shot and went lbw and Essex had won amid wild scenes of celebration.

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