The role 50 over cricket should play in our domestic game is something that has been subject to great scrutiny. The irony at play, therefore, that Middlesex and Surrey served up the highest drama of this year’s Royal London One-Day cup in what was effectively a Twenty20 game should be lost on no-one.
It was an impossibly frustrating day in which the umpires were repeatedly driven back into the pavilion by showers, aborting three separate pitch inspections and two tosses.
It encapsulated the fragmented nature of this competition, both through scheduling and weather disruption, that when the Lord’s bell rung just before 6:30 Somerset were the only confirmed quarter-finalists in the South Group.
Under leaden skies, an 18-over battle was pitched and Paul Stirling got the home side underway with a powerful cut for four in Jade Dernbach’s opening over.
Two balls later, the diminutive Irishman had lost his opening partner as England Lions skipper Dawid Malan- who passed a late fitness test on the morning of the match- advanced down the pitch but could only nick Jade Dernbach behind without scoring.
Both Curran brothers were picked up for sixes into the Mound Stand before Tom swung the contest with two wickets in the space of three balls. The 21 year-old tied Nick Gubbins up, inducing an edge which was plucked out of the air by a fine left-handed catch from Ben Foakes, before an off-cutter clean bowled Paul Stirling on 13 to make it 23-3.
In John Simpson and George Bailey, the home side possessed two men well equipped to rebuild their innings, as the wicketkeeper-batsman glided a fine cover drive for four from a loose Sam Curran delivery.
Stuart Meaker and Zafar Ansari found the right length for the surface but Dernbach’s second over was a tad short. The bowler was duly punished by Bailey, who hooked him for a midwicket maximum.
As has been the case for many county batting line-ups this season, the introduction of Gareth Batty spelt trouble and he pushed one past the defences of Bailey, bowled for 12 with the score 50-4.
Simpson pressed on at a run a ball, clipping Ansari to the square leg rope and his captain James Franklin joined him, lifting a six over deep extra cover to make it 68-4 after 10 overs.
Just as it appeared that the pair were giving the hosts a measure of control with a partnership of 32, Franklin lifted Tom Curran into the hands of Sam Curran on the cow corner fence.
It was 83-6 two balls later when Simpson on 29, potentially distracted by rain driving in at the time, feathered Stuart Meaker into the hands of Foakes with the first ball of the 12th over.
A rain break followed shortly after the fall of wicket and, once the players were back on, Toby Roland-Jones was out for 1 later in the disrupted Stuart Meaker over.
The two new batsmen at the crease in Ollie Rayner and Ryan Higgins struggled to come to terms with conditions and the slower balls of Dernbach, off the bowling of whom Rayner picked out Tom Curran at 91-8, having made 3.
Higgins hacked a four off the penultimate delivery of the 15th over and Middlesex set Surrey exactly 100 to win.
It was an exceptional performance from Surrey’s battery of seam bowlers to reduce the Seaxes to less than three figures.
At this stage, Kent sealed a comfortable win against Sussex to seal second place and a home quarter-final, which reduced Hampshire’s margin for error down at the Ageas Bowl.
On the first ball of Surrey’s chase, Toby Roland-Jones served up the kind of ball that Jason Roy has creamed for four on countless occasions this summer; this time, Roy’s bat was well away from his body and the ball found its edge, flying behind into Simpson’s mitts.
Steve Davies hasn’t had an easy time of it in the One-Day Cup and this continued when he issued a thick edge to James Harris’ first ball that was pouched by reliable slip fielder Rayner. At 2-2 Surrey were reeling.
Still there, Aaron Finch got underway and he muscled a six over midwicket, before moving Roland-Jones down the ground and into the members’ pavilion two balls later. The Australian looked determined to win the game on his own at this stage, targeting James Harris with a lofted drive over mid-off for six.
Rory Burns may lack Finch’s force, but he gave what left of the Lord’s crowd the gift of his timing when he clipped Harris to the boundary to move the score on to 26-2.
Burns then utterly mistimed a square drive, dragging on to his own stumps in ugly fashion. He went for 5 and Surrey were 28-3.
News filtered through that Hampshire had fallen short against Somerset and that the winner of this game would make it through to the knockout stages. The stakes went through the roof.
Seemingly minded to move his side’s score on despite the consistent loss of partners, Finch looked to target the short boundary towards the grandstand, but caught one that skidded on and was bowled by Ollie Rayner.
This brought Ansari and Foakes to the crease, a partnership perfectly geared towards keeping down risk through running between the wickets. They did so for six overs, before Foakes chose the 12th over, Sowter’s second, to force the issue.
Foakes waited for a quicker one and used the pace to turn the spinner around the corner for six, before gliding the next delivery past short third man for a four. He powerfully slog-swept for four later in that over, taking further fours off Roland-Jones and Franklin to effectively seal the victory.
It was a shame the former Essex man couldn’t be there at the end, when he chipped to Sowter on 45, but Foakes played a fine hand and alongside Ansari, showed maturity beyond his years as they built a match-winning partnership of 66. Ansari hacked the winning runs with four balls to play.
Surrey will now meet Surrey in the quarter finals at Wantage Road. The other three QFs are:
Warwickshire v Essex
Somerset v Worcestershire
Kent v Yorkshire