Middlesex held on for an unlikely draw in their opening Championship game of the season against Nottinghamshire at Lord’s, following a 36 run eighth wicket stand between James Harris and Tim Murtagh.
Harris and Murtagh picked up where they left off in the last match of 2014 when they combined to save Middlesex from a defeat against Lancashire at Emirates Old Trafford that would have condemned them to relegation. This time the stakes weren’t quite so high, but the odds were probably stacked more heavily against them when they came together with 19 overs left. To further add to the sense of jeopardy, Dawid Malan would only be able to bat in an emergency because of his broken finger sustained on day one.
Harris, deemed to have all-round potential during his early years at Glamorgan but with few major batting contributions behind him in recent seasons, batted for over two hours and faced 120 balls for his 36. On a pitch that offered only occasional assistance to the bowlers both he and Murtagh were able to look comfortable. The latter did get struck on the body by Harry Gurney, but the physio’s appearance afterwards may have been tactically motivated as Middlesex ensured that Notts were not able to squeeze an extra over in on top of the mandatory 96.
“It felt remarkably similar to Manchester”, Harris said afterwards. “When we came together we had the best part of 20-odd overs left in the day and we went about it in the same way. To be honest we didn’t feel under a huge amount of pressure. We’d been there and done it before and we knew what we were doing. Barring any real mishaps or genuine jaffas we felt pretty good about it and it turned out that way”.
Nick Compton and Adam Voges had earlier kept out the Notts attack for a combined 395 minutes to make saving a game that had looked lost on Tuesday afternoon a realistic possibility. Compton looked assured throughout his 217-ball innings of 85, especially before lunch whilst batting alongside his overnight partner Nick Gubbins. Gubbins fell in the final over before the break, popping a Samit Patel delivery to short-leg after facing 159 balls for his 37.
Compton was joined by Voges after the break, and the pair put on 42 before Compton was caught at slip off the excellent Harry Gurney, fifteen short of his hundred. Paul Stirling followed a ball later, also caught in the cordon, to tilt the game back in Notts’ favour, and when John Simpson fell before tea an escape looked very unlikely indeed. Middlesex’s predicament looked even worse when Voges, cleaned up by Gurney for a fluent 72, and Tom Helm departed in quick succession, but Harris and Murtagh had other ideas.
Nottinghamshire’s declaration, made yesterday evening with a lead of 518, is likely to be a talking point. Mick Newell, Notts’ director of cricket, said that they wanted to “bat Middlesex out of the game” and felt that the ease with which lower-order batsmen played out the closing overs suggested that his team “weren’t that close and could have been sitting there in an hour-and-a-half’s time looking for the wicket”, but Compton took a different view.
“It was an extraordinary declaration”, Compton said. “In the first game of the season, with the good bowling attack that they’ve got, and one of the best Test bowlers in the world, I thought 400 was enough. They left it far too long. They should have put us in a long time earlier and we made them pay for it”.
Despite missing out on the win, Notts still take ten points to Middlesex’s eight to sit fourth in the nascent Division One table.