Middlesex cruise to emphatic 72 run victory over Essex

Middlesex beat Essex in the NatWest T20 Blast at Lord's on Thursday. Credit Layth Yousif

Middlesex beat Essex in the NatWest T20 Blast at Lord's on Thursday. Credit Layth Yousif - Credit: Archant

Middlesex beat Essex by 72 runs after posting a formidable 203-6 at Lord’s.

Middlesex's John Simpon reaches 50 against Essex. Credit Layth Yousif

Middlesex's John Simpon reaches 50 against Essex. Credit Layth Yousif - Credit: Archant

The visitors were then bowled out for 131 with Tom Helm grabbing a career best five for 11 off 3.2 overs.

Earlier, an imperious knock of 63 off 28 balls by the world-class Brendan McCullum, along with a fast-paced 51 off 36 from wicketkeeper John Simpson – batting at number three – saw them post a match-winning total.

Essex’s gloveman James Foster hit an excellent 50 off only 25 balls but too many Eagles’ batsmen threw away their wickets as the London rivals kept their T20 hopes alive, just – at sold-out Lord’s despite there being a Test match in London.

Judging by the queues outside the Grace Gates that stretched down the St John’s Wood Road just before tea you would have thought the game would have been at Lord’s.

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The Oval may be fewer than five miles across London as the crow flies, but the crowds in NW8 were almost as large as at the south London sellout between England and South Africa in the third Test.

For this correspondent, and no doubt countless more, the five-day game will always take primacy in testing talent, temperament, technique and character – but there is a place for the shorter, more immediate form of the game.

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As was witnessed here tonight between these two southern rivals.

The Test may have robbed Middlesex of the hugely talented Dawid Malan, and the consistency and threat of Toby Roland-Jones, but Essex could also point to the call-up of Tom Westley.

Essex celebrate the wicket of Middlesex's Brendan McCullum. Credit Layth Yousif

Essex celebrate the wicket of Middlesex's Brendan McCullum. Credit Layth Yousif - Credit: Archant

The fact both batsmen ‘failed’ in their maiden innings is no disgrace given England selectors, while being as pragmatic as ever, do perhaps look more than one game at a time. And if both score runs in their second knock, retain their place and kick-on during the late summer clash against the West Indies a place on the plane to an Ashes tour is not out of the question.

But that would be to look too far into the future, for cricketers – and all sportsmen – never see beyond one game at a time.

In the T20 NatWest Blast that meant Middlesex faced a must-win game.

Time has been running out for them to turn their fortunes around in this tournament with only seven games remaining in the group stages.

With that in mind they could ill-afford any further slip-ups if they were to make the knockout stages of the competition.

Daniel Vettori’s men have flattered to deceive this year in the shortest form of the game – since 2008 was it ever thus – but for the team approaching the fixture propping up the South Group with just two wins from their first five games defeat would mean another fruitless year.

“Unfortunately I’ve been in this situation a few times, both as a player and as a coach, but it gives you that ability to say that only one game matters,” he conceded before the start – which in fairness is the only statement the experienced Kiwi could make.

For a team with batsmen the calibre of Eoin Morgan and McCullum, not to mention the deceptively impressive wicketkeeper Simpson alongside the experienced James Franklin, underachievement is as frustrating as it is perplexing.

Another full house at Lord's for a T20 Middlesex match. Credit Layth Yousif

Another full house at Lord's for a T20 Middlesex match. Credit Layth Yousif - Credit: Archant

Essex for their part came into the game on the back of a comprehensive win against Hampshire in their last completed match in the South Group before having to settle for a point in the Cardiff wash-out versus Glamorgan on Sunday.

Head coach Chris Silverwood admitted every game the Eagles play from here on in is a must-win given the way the teams are bunched up in the table – which may not necessarily be a bad thing as the quest for a place in the top-four looked wide open with only a few points separating the top team from the bottom team.

Essex’s Paul Walter could have had McCullum out for either of his first two balls after the opening over from Mohammed Amir – yes, him – went for two.

As it was McCullum survived to launch a number of lusty blows to smite 16 off the next four balls. T20 can be an unforgiving place at times.

The Eagles’ Australian right-arm bowler Matt Dixon then snaffled Gubbins for a single as Middlesex reached 18-1 after Chopra caught him on the square.

The Kiwi may have been looking to give him the charge but as the Perth-born cricketer once saw a snake on a pitch back in Western Australian even the sight of one of New Zealand’s most explosive batsmen wasn’t enough to scare him.

McCullum did his best to disturb his opponents by smashing Amir for two huge sixes as the home side accelerated.

He reached his 50 off 20 balls by finding a gap on the onside when there appeared to be none as he lashed the ball between Essex fielders Ryan ten Doeschate and Dixon before he was out for 63 off 28 balls.

It was a fine knock, and an entertaining one too as he notched six fours and five sixes until he was caught in the deep by Harmer off Ravi Bopara.

You could see what it meant to the Eagles by the unbridled joy among all the fielders.

England ODI captain Morgan then moved through the gears including a huge six off Amir as Middlesex looked well-placed on 141-2 off 13 overs as Simpson reached his 50 off only 32 balls.

Essex’s left-arm bowler Zaidi once said he would have been an airline pilot if he hadn’t been a cricketer. One slog-sweep from Morgan almost went as high as cruising altitude before nearly dropping into a packed Edrich Stand. Simpson was then stumped by James Foster off slow bowler Dan Lawrence as the hosts reached 160-3.

Moments later it was 160-4 as the double act had new bat Scott out for a duck.

Although Lawrence rightly ended with the plaudits after finishing with an impressive looking 3-21 off four overs, it was an absolute joy to savour the impeccable glovework from Foster.

Enjoy the 37-year-old while you can, as once he retires the golden craft of pure wicketkeeping as a profession, like that of blacksmiths, will be one step nearer ceasing,

Morgan then made up the third of Lawrence’s trio of victims, out for 39 off 30.

A few lusty blows from Franklin and Southee saw Middlesex finish on 203-6.

It was a total, like the curate’s egg, that was difficult to tell whether it was good, bad or indifferent on this benign strip.

Until Essex batted.

Southee sans pads removed Wheater for nought as Essex started their innings 1-1 off four balls.

By the time Morgan caught Chopra for nine they had moved to 31-2 off 3.2 overs, but were still behind the curve.

Finn then showed that it could – and in the past, would, have been him at The Oval rather than his team-mate they call Ro-Jo, by bowling too fast for Lawrence to try and hit across the line. The end result being Morgan catching the skier produced from an ungainly swing, as Essex fell to 47-3 off five overs.

Finn picked up his second wicket after ten Doeschate was caught by Morgan at deep cover/gully for eight off 12 balls as the visitors found themselves in trouble at 605 off 7.5 overs.

Worse was to come as Scott had Zaidi caught in the deep by Higgins as they limped on to 62/6 off 8.2 overs.

Facing a comprehensive defeat the visitors fought gamely with gloveman in excelsis Foster scoring at a nifty rate.

However once he was out for a sterling 50 off only 25 balls – wicketkeepers scoring runs? It’ll never catch on – Essex subsided to a large defeat as Helm mopped up the tail with a career-best five for 11 just as the heavens opened – even if Duckworth-Lewis would not have worried Middlesex tonight.

Then again with such strong performances from so many fine cricketers nothing much worried them tonight as they cruised to a deserved victory.

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