Brendon McCullum’s welcome party was spoiled at Merchant Taylor’s as Gloucestershire continued their unbeaten run over Middlesex for their first win of the Natwest T20 Blast season.
McCullum hit just six on his first appearance, but it was a disciplined bowling unit and an all-round batting effort helped Gloucestershire to their eighth win over the London county, with their only other fixture rained off.
Benny Howell’s 37 followed his 2-23 with the ball, while Ian Cockbain continued his excellent personal record against Middlesex with 40 and Chris Dent made 45 as Gloucestershire chased 160 from the penultimate ball to win by four wickets.
Paul Stirling and Adam Voges’ half-centuries steered Middlesex’s power-packed batting line-up, but scant contributions elsewhere ensured a first defeat of the Blast season for Dawid Malan’s side.
The hosts would have been relieved to see the ever-dangerous Michael Klinger out without scoring as Toby Roland-Jones dominated the opening overs of the chase, and also having Hamish Marshall out for 10 as Gloucestershire struggled to 16-2 in the third over.
But consistent partnerships, the likes of which Middlesex were missing from their own batting display, boosted Gloucestershire, using the slight slowness of the pitch to caress as opposed to bash, hitting just two sixes in their innings, the last of which won them the match.
Cockbain and Dent put on 67 for the third wicket, the former in particular scoring at a decent rate, while Howell, who later admitted the trio should have each gone on, struck three fours and a towering straight six before falling caught and bowled to Ravi Patel.
At times you forgot this was the flash and hope tournament, such was the impressive nature of the straight driving, although Gareth Roderick ensured the big hits were not to go unrewarded.
Jack Taylor, brought in as an out-and-out batsman after being given a bowling ban earlier in the day, hit a useful 10-ball 14, but it was Roderick stealing the headlines at the bitterly cold outground, firstly crashing one inches past point before sending a steepling six just out of the reach of Eoin Morgan to seal the Gloucestershire success.
As so often happens when a big name appears on England’s shores, McCullum didn’t quite hit his straps during Middlesex’s time to bat.
After picking out fielders with his first three balls, the New Zealander turned on the style with a huge pull over the commentary box, but only succeeded in gifting van Buuren a caught and bowled wicket attempting the same shot next ball. Some would call it poetic justice for his garish, fluorescent green footwear.
No matter for Middlesex who, despite also losing Malan and Morgan boast one of the stronger top-orders in the competition, called upon Stirling and Voges to help them to 159-9.
Stirling started the damage, combining exquisite drives with brute force to bring up his 50 within 37 balls, eventually skying to Roderick off Howell. It capped off an exquisite bowling display from Howell, going for just 23 from four overs, who also had a subdued Morgan caught for just 13, although a big six off Tom Smith did give the Irishman the honour of registering 4,000 T20 runs.
But in true Voges style, the Australian guided the innings to the fore, cutting and driving in four-day style, initially playing second fiddle to Stirling before coming into his own. Despite only hitting four boundaries, scampered twos seamed an easy proposition as the 36-year-old defied age before allowing Roland-Jones to free his arms with an eight-ball 17.
He fell in the final over, giving Andrew Tye a second wicket on Gloucestershire debut, while James Fuller and Harry Podmore were run out as Middlesex fell just short of a 160 target, a score which proved too small for the visitors’ undersung batting card.