Some things in life do not appear susceptible to the winds of change. Father Time, recently returned from a break at the restorer’s after being blown over by cyclones in March, is one such feature of the English cricket season.
Fitting, then, that on a day when Hampshire’s youngest favoured son looked to press his case for an England debut next week, that it was in fact two of the county’s older players who proved their timeless class in a 118-run partnership that deepened what can only be termed Middlesex’s white-ball crisis.
James Vince, announced in England’s T20 squad against New Zealand, charged Podmore early on and took a few cheeky boundaries, including one top-edge over Simpson’s head. He was bowled by Abbott taking a swing, and was replaced at the crease by 36-year-old Owais Shah, who has more runs in Twenty20 cricket than any other English player.
Nowadays, Shah has a relatively simple T20 batting style that many would consider out of step with modern developments. He doesn’t ramp it or reverse it very often. He backs away, frees his arms, and swings. When the ball isn’t there, he looks to rotate the strike. Middlesex gave him that opt-out single too often, and too easily.
Having been on 26 runs with a strike rate of under 100, Shah reached 50 off his 38th ball. After tucking into Paul Stirling’s off-spin when the Irishman tried to follow him down the leg side, he reached the milestone with a slog-swept six off James Harris. The two England rejects, the two old-timers, flayed the bad balls and nurdled the good ones to the tune of 118 runs off 73 balls.
The breakthrough, when it eventually came, was bizarre. Shah was rolling back the years: he was young again, he was cool again, he was the thing again. In a moment of reverie, perhaps, he lost his bearings while thumping another average delivery from Kyle Abbott into the stands. He turned round and came back to reality to see that he had trodden on his own stumps.
Furious with himself and the world (his career-best score in T20s is still just 84, and a century was there for the taking), Shah took a swing at his broken wicket before trudging back. Sean Ervine and Adam Wheater then made brief cameos, but the innings belonged to Carberry and Shah.
Kyle Abbott was preferred to Podmore in the 20th over for obvious reasons: he is their experienced, death-bowling-specialist overseas star, while Podmore is still learning the trade. However, he bowled two no balls and gave Carberry too much width; his final over went for 20, and Middlesex were chasing 200 without two of their best three batsmen.
The situation got worse when Nick Compton plinked the first two balls of Will Smith’s seemingly innocuous off spin back to the bowler, the second one without hitting the ground; Middlesex were 0-1. The second ball of the next over was a daisycutter that pinned Gubbins in front; Middlesex were 9-2.
It all seemed to rest on Stirling in the absence of Morgan and Malan. Chris Wood was a clear target. Stirling showed his intent by striking Wood’s second ball over midwicket into the top tier. He then bowled too wide, and Stirling helped himself to two fours through cover point. Too short, and two fours to third man. The chase was on.
The boundary blitz passed, and Middlesex could afford to ease up a bit. For three overs, they took the ones and twos where they could. Danny Briggs (with figures of 1-0-3-0) returned, and two full-tosses were dispatched. He bowled a wide, was drilled over mid-off by Stirling, who reached his 50 off the next ball with a two.
Pace off the ball eventually worked for the visitors though, as Simpson failed to clear Jackson Bird at long on to give Smith his second wicket. Shortly after, Stirling learnt that Yasir Arafat is a cannier operator than Wood, and isn’t to be hit into the second tier lightly: an almost identical shot to the six went straight up in the air, and Arafat took a fine steepling catch.
Like plans for the currency of an independent Scotland, eventually Middlesex just couldn’t do without Stirling. Balbirnie was caught behind off Briggs for an uncomfortable three, and the required rate climbed to 12. A hopeless run-out, tame shots from Dexter and Harris, and all Middlesex could do was tamely bat out their overs for a 21-run defeat.
Stirling’s clean hitting is a thorough pleasure to watch, and Simpson’s white-ball form is definitely a promising consolation from Middlesex’s T20 campaign so far. But neither their senior nor junior bowlers are performing, and they are too reliant on too few batsmen for their runs. For Hampshire, however, the quarter-finals are another step closer.