North Middlesex fight back to shock reigning champions Hampstead in Premier Division opener

A weakened North Middlesex side appeared to be staring defeat in the face as they hosted reigning champions Hampstead in their Middlesex County League Premier Division opener – but they fought back in the final hour to gain a dramatic victory.

North Midd lost their first two wickets without scoring and ultimately posted a vulnerable total of 145, with new signing Rob Fahrenheim (23) their highest scorer.

Hampstead looked well-placed to achieve their target as they reached 111-5 in reply, but they then lost their final five wickets for just 12 runs, with home captain Tom Nicoll bowling three successive wicket-maidens.

“It was a mental game,” said Nicoll. “I don’t think we were really in the game all day until the last 45 minutes, and then it was a bit of a mixture of Hampstead imploding a bit and us bowling very tightly.

“We didn’t make it easy for them at all. They had 18 more extras than we did so we just built up pressure.

“In a lot of games you think ‘we’re getting absolutely stuffed here’ but a game like that really builds confidence that it’s never over and it can turn so quickly.”

The disappointment for Nicoll was that, having previously challenged his top-order batsmen to give last season’s top scorer Evan Flowers more support, his players struggled at the crease again.

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“Batting is so key,” he said. “I think it’s a lot harder to bat in this league and the team that can do that well should finish in the top three.

“To be fair Hampstead’s opening bowler, Steve Clark, bowled very well and got three of our top-order batsmen with good deliveries, but we really need to improve.

“After the game I said to the lads ‘it’s a great result, I don’t know how we pulled it off to be honest and we’ll celebrate – but remember the batting, which was pretty poor, and we need to do a lot better’.

“I think all you can do is practise. I’ll be down there twice this week doing drills and getting back into it. Everyone’s got the ability, it’s just practising and then hoping you don’t get an absolute pile-up on Saturday morning!”

Hampstead chairman Nick Brown reflected: “This is a bitterly disappointing result and a bad way for us to start the title defence.

“It was an understrength North Middlesex team, with key players missing, and in spite of us having a couple of players missing as well there is no excuse for not chasing a score not much above 140.

“There are not really any positives to take out of the game, we simply have to do better. Having knocked over [Mitch] Murray and [Will] Vanderspar in the first over, I think even 140 was too many for North Midd to have scored.”

North Middlesex were missing Flowers as well as opening bowlers Ed Bird and Joel Hughes, and they were quickly in trouble as Hampstead captain Clark (3-32) bowled overseas signing Murray and his replacement Vanderspar for ducks – with both players only facing three balls – before also removing 16-year-old Joe Cracknell (14).

Fahrenheim (23), Adam Holmes (17) and Nicoll (22) did their best to steady the ship but were unable to stick around as wickets fell at regular intervals, with Ragheb Aga claiming figures of 3-26.

However, the lower order chipped in meaningfully, with Liam O’Driscoll (15) and Nick Brand (16) helping to add 49 runs for the final four wickets.

While Clark then fell lbw to O’Driscoll (1-37) for a duck, George Adair (44) led Hampstead to 82-3 in reply before being caught by Nicoll off the bowling of Jaron Semper (2-18) – and, although Sam Evison (8) was caught off Vanderspar (2-33), the visitors looked in control at 111-5.

But Nicoll (3-12) took three wickets in three consecutive overs without conceding any runs, removing Jack Biddulph (18), Charlie Wedgwood (0) and Vishal Somaya (1) to leave the visitors 119-8 – and the champions then lost their last two wickets to run-outs.

Will Roberts went for a duck, with Murray managing a direct hit from 25 yards with only one stump to aim at, and O’Driscoll then accounted for Rob Jones (17) in the 36th over.