North Middlesex soar to their highest ever position in the Premier Division
North Middlesex have reached their highest ever position in the Premier Division, leaping up to second place and lying just 10 points off the top after a two-wicket victory over Finchley in Crouch End.
Sixteen-year-old Ethan Bamber followed last week’s five-for with another four wickets as the visitors crawled to 197-9 in 66 overs, and Sam Webber (67 not out) and Evan Flowers (49) then led the way with the bat as North Midd chased down the total.
Meanwhile the three teams who had been sitting above the Park Road club at the start of the weekend all dropped points.
Leaders Richmond were defeated while third-placed Twickenham were beaten by second-placed Ealing - who were then deducted 10 points - so North Midd moved up two spots and are now within one victory of the summit, despite this only being their second season in the top flight since their 2013 promotion.
Captain Tom Nicoll won the toss on his home ground on Saturday and, with a side packed with seamers, inserted Finchley.
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Joel Hughes opened the bowling with his usual nagging line and length, along with Aussie all-rounder Sam Webber, who sent down 23 overs in total.
However, an early breakthrough proved elusive and it was left to last week’s hero, Bamber, to rip through the top order, removing George Charlton (21), Muhammad Arshad (12), Majed Ali (9) and Sumeet Sharma (0) - the latter well caught by Nicoll at slip.
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Suddenly Finchley were 49-4, with their only relief coming with the fact that Bamber is restricted to seven-over spells due to his age.
Left-hander Jake Milton began a recovery, putting up dogged resistance and showing great restraint in facing 162 balls while scoring 60, but none of his team-mates were able to stick around long enough to form a meaningful partnership.
Ed Bird (2-46), restored to the North Middlesex line-up, bowled with genuine pace and removed Hassan Khan (16) before taking the key wicket of Milton with a ball which lifted sharply and was edged to keeper Adam Holmes.
Webber (2-50) and Hughes (1-30) then returned to make further inroads, but late resistance from No 10 batsman Frahan Butt (30 not out) enabled Finchley to bat out the maximum permitted 66 overs and reach 197-9.
In reply North Midd’s openers, Connor Nurse (0) and 15-year-old Joe Cracknell (4), both fell early, leaving the home side 15-2.
The experienced Will Vanderspar and veteran Flowers combined to put on 30 runs together, but Vanderspar (19) was soon followed back to the pavilion by Nicoll, who succumbed to the first ball after tea for a duck as North Midd continued to struggle at 45-4.
Flowers and the incoming Webber added an invaluable 75, but when Flowers was caught behind, just one run short of a half-century, the game was in the balance at 120-5.
The hosts were indebted to the composed batting of Webber (67no), who played the innings of the day and proved the difference between the sides, batting with patience but lashing the poor balls away as ever to edge North Midd closer to their target.
Liam O’Driscoll (17) and Holmes (10) chipped in, but it was the teenage Bamber (8no) who was partnering Webber as the victory was secured at 198-8 in the 43rd over.
Nicoll said: “Young Ethan was again on fire with the ball, taking four wickets to add to last week’s five. Sam Webber was the man of the match, taking two wickets for not many runs in 23 tight overs, and Evan helped get us out of a hole - as he so often does.”