Gloucestershire’s unblemished record in Twenty20 matches against Middlesex continued as they successfully defended 214 at Richmond.
Middlesex’s chase had briefly looked promising, a 58 run partnership between John Simpson and James Franklin taking them to 99-3 after ten overs. However, wickets fell far too regularly from that point on and they ultimately came up 43 short despite Simpson’s career-best 74.
Gloucestershire had made steady progress through the first half of their innings, Peter Handscomb catching the eye with four boundaries before being run out by a direct hit from Franklin as he attempted a quick single. But the rate only really began to increase after Ian Cockbain and Benny Howell opted to take the attack to young spinner Nathan Sowter whose third over, the twelfth of the innings, went for 19 to leave the visitors well placed at 100-2.
With the platform set, Cockbain continued to free his arms, clearing Old Deer Park’s short straight boundaries several times during a 51-ball, 101-run, partnership with Howell before top-edging to third man for 75. By now Gloucestershire were 162-3 with four overs still to go and it was with a certain inevitability that they cleared the 200 mark with six balls to spare. Howell was run out for 57 in the final over, surpassing his previous career best T20 score by two.
Middlesex did at least become the first side to dismiss Gloucestershire’s captain Michael Klinger in this year’s T20 Blast when the Australian was bounced out by James Harris early on. Klinger had made three centuries in his previous four innings and now has a “healthy” competition average of 413.
The run chase got off to a flying start with the in-form Paul Stirling hitting the first delivery he faced for six over cover. The Irishman soon chopped on to Craig Miles for 13 but Nick Gubbins, striking the ball cleanly in making 28 off 14 balls on his short-form debut, ensured that the scoring rate remained good.
At the halfway point Middlesex were 25 ahead of where Gloucestershire had been at the same stage after two straight sixes from Simpson saw the tenth over, bowled by Jack Taylor, dispatched for 21. The hosts could not keep the momentum going, however, as four wickets in the space of nineteen balls changed the complexion of the game. First Franklin, Middlesex’s captain for the day, holed out to mid-off before Andrew Balbirnie tamely prodded David Payne to short cover for a golden duck. Both Neil Dexter, caught behind off Craig Miles, and Kyle Abbott followed shortly after. Simpson’s excellent innings continued, making just his second Twenty20 half-century, but he found no support down the order.
David Payne’s figures of five for 24 for Gloucestershire were the best of the competition to date but in truth he benefited from Middlesex’s steep required rate rather than bowling an especially hostile spell. They were also career best figures for the 24-year-old who had never previously taken more than three wickets in a Twenty20 innings.
The result leaves Middlesex with just two wins from six and now slipping out of contention for the quarter-finals, a stage they have failed to reach since 2008. Gloucestershire, on the other hand, go top, though only on net run rate from four other teams that have also recorded four wins.