There is something extremely charming about county cricket played at outgrounds. The sight of ice cream vans basking in the sun. The smell of burger vans wafting across the ground. The joy of reporting from a tent within touching distance of the boundary rope. It’s enough to bring a smile to the most downhearted of souls.
There weren’t too many batsmen with smiles on their faces at Blackpool today though, as the pitch offered pace, seam movement and some uneven bounce. Ultimately, Lancashire scrambled home in a low-scoring contest with two wickets to spare as Stephen Parry and Tom Bailey held their nerve to secure the win.
Middlesex were under the pump from the start, losing wickets at regular intervals and failing to bat out their overs. Their total of 161 was in no small part thanks to the eighth and ninth wicket stands of 28 and 50 as the tail wagged magnificently.
It looked as though those late order runs would prove decisive when Lancashire stuttered to 63-4, but a 47-run partnership between James Faulkner and Jordan Clark got them within touching distance and the bowlers saw them home by two wickets.
Steven Croft’s decision to stick Middlesex in was vindicated by a superb opening spell by Tom Bailey. He took 3-24 from his first six overs to leave Eoin Morgan’s men in choppy waters at the seaside. The pitch showed plenty of pace and some variable bounce and Bailey had Malan caught behind for 14 with one that reared up at the opener before Sam Robson dragged on with one that kept a little low. That left Middlesex struggling at 28-2 and when Bailey had his third in the ninth over, the visitors were swimming helplessly against the tide. A careless shot from Nick Compton gifted an easy catch to Jordan Clark to leave his side 36-3.
Morgan and James Franklin set about paddling furiously to try and drag their side back into the contest. Morgan perished in the nineteenth over as he nicked a bouncer from James Faulkner through to Alex Davies for a 33-ball 17 and Middlesex were 67-4. Nick Gubbins edged Jordan Clark to slip for just one in the next over and Franklin soon joined him back in the dressing room for 12 from 46 when he skied a Faulkner delivery to Bailey at cover. Middlesex were 74-6 at their top order had been blown away.
Lancashire’s all-green kit has caused quite a stir and it is fair to say it is not exactly fetching. In truth, it looks as though someone has scattered 11 Birdseye garden peas across the ground. It didn’t put them off their stride though as Rayner was next to depart when he edged Gavin Griffiths behind for three to make it 83-7 after 27.1 overs.
John Simpson and James Harris put on the second-highest partnership of the innings of 28 for the eighth wicket before local boy Steven Croft trapped Simpson lbw for 20 in the 37th over and Middlesex were 111-8.
Harris and Toby Roland-Jones then put on the biggest stand for the ninth wicket with a 50 partnership. Stephen Parry swiftly wrapped up the innings when Roland-Jones was caught on the boundary by Griffiths for 29 before top-scorer Harris top-edged to Prince for 32. The lower order resistance guided Middlesex to 161 all out from 46.5 overs – a competitive if disappointing total.
Junaid Khan signed for Middlesex this week and gave his former county an early reminder of his talents by removing Ashwell Prince for one in the third over when the South African picked out Nick Compton at backward point.
Alviro Petersen arrived at the crease and, alongside Karl Brown, made batting look easy as they moved the score onto 49-1 after nine overs. James Harris was introduced to replace the expensive Roland-Jones and struck with his second ball as Petersen put a drive down the throat of Morgan at mid-off and departed for 14. Brown carried on his merry way and successive boundaries at the start of the eleventh over took him to 36 before Khan had him caught at slip by Rayner to reduce Lancashire to 59-3. When skipper Croft also departed just two overs later, the home side were looking edgy at 63-4.
Faulkner and Paul Horton steadied the ship and were stroking the ball around nicely. James Franklin just got one to nip away from Horton in the 21st over and the edge carried to Rayner at slip. Lancashire were 92-5 and the game ground to a halt as they scored just one run in the next 16 balls before Alex Davies edged Roland-Jones to the keeper at it was 93-6. While the required run rate was around 2.50 an over, Lancashire were anxious about the wickets in hand.
The 47-run stand between Faulkner and Clark was crucial, but when both fell in quick succession, Lancashire still had work to do and with just two wickets in hand, there was plenty of tension among the home supporters. They needed 15 runs from 42 balls when Bailey and Parry came together. Eoin Morgan bowled out his main bowlers in pursuit of wickets and so had to turn to the part-time spin of Dawid Malan and Lancashire’s lower order picked off him and Ollie Rayner to secure the win with 13 balls to spare.