Despite the best efforts of young opener Max Holden, who made his highest List A score of 71, Middlesex lost to Australia as the latter continued their preparations for the upcoming ODI series against England. Replying to the Aussies’ 283-6, the hosts never really got going and eventually were bowled out for 182, to lose by 101 runs. 106 from Travis Head proved crucial to the outcome.
Having won the toss and chosen to set a target, the Australians got off to a fast start, making full use of what initially looked a perfect pitch for batting as they smacked boundaries with regularity. The short boundary towards the Edrich Stand beckoned invitingly for all the top-order batsmen, and this allowed Head in particular to get stuck in.
The left-hander quickly displayed the power and explosive hitting that has seen him become a mainstay of the Aussies’ limited-overs batting, including several savage cut shots that flew to the rope in no time. However, this was not simply a carefree blitz of the Middlesex attack, as the left-hander had to deal with the loss of several partners and recover thereafter.
The opener found eventual stability with Aaron Finch, who made 54 runs belligerent runs from the middle order, while Head simply carried on serenely. He reached his hundred off 133 balls and while Middlesex’s young attack won’t necessarily have enjoyed bowling to him in this form, coming up against such a batsman will surely have been beneficial for their development.
Despite tailing off a little in the closing overs, as good death bowling and a few wild hoicks resulted in late wickets, the tourists would still have been confident of victory at the halfway stage, against a Middlesex batting lineup missing plenty of experience.
Tom Barber was the pick of the bowlers for the hosts, taking three wickets, but the surprise package with the ball was Holden, the part-time spinner better known for his batting taking 1-29 from ten extremely accurate overs.
When Middlesex began their chase, it soon became obvious that the pitch was not necessarily as conducive to quick scoring as the efforts from Head, Finch, and Shaun Marsh (who scored 49) might have suggested. One man who did impress, despite his fellow top-order batsmen falling regularly around him, was Holden, who made his highest List A score of 71, against an international standard attack, to showcase his immense promise. It was not his stroke play as such that caught the eye, more his immaculate defence and willingness to take quick singles which really impressed.
After the game, Holden spoke of the combined effect of facing bowlers of international standard in front of a crowd substantially larger than anything he’d played in front of before, in only his debut season for the first XI.
“For all the young players it was an unbelievable experience, and we really enjoyed it,” he said.
“This was probably the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of here, and when I was walking down through the Long Room, out of a full pavilion, it’s an unbelievable place to play and great fun, the sort of crowd you dream of playing in front of!”
Holden also discussed the step up in terms of bowling attack he faced; “To get the opportunity to play against them, especially with the extra pace the game’s played at, is a good eye-opener and you get a really good gauge of where your game’s at, where you need to improve, and what skills are required at that next level. Definitely a good learning experience for all of us!”
With the Australian attack utilising slower balls very well on a surface which responded handily to them, Holden explained the difficulty in dealing with them.
“The bowlers adapted to the wicket really well, and what struck me in particular was that they all have more than one slower ball. They have different varieties, two or three, which makes it really hard to set yourself, especially as they then have the ability to knock your head off with raw pace the very next ball if they want!”
Of his demonically accurate spell, Holden was coy at first, but the enjoyment of bowling at Lord’s was plain to see; “I did love it,” he said.
“It was a bit unexpected really, Finny (Steven Finn) just asked me to come on for a few overs, I landed them pretty well initially and then just kept on going really. It was nice to show I can bowl a bit, I’ve worked on it pretty hard and I do want to try and become more of an all-rounder if possible.”
When he departed, victim to a very sharp low catch by Shaun Marsh off a short ball from the giant Billy Stanlake, victory looked a tall order for the hosts. So it proved, as his dismissal at 139-5, prompted a collapse. Middlesex lost their last 5 wickets for 43 runs, the remaining lower-order batsmen simply unable to cope with the pace, accuracy and deception of Michael Neser, Billy Stanlake and Jhye Richardson in particular.