Centuries from Paul Stirling and Eoin Morgan helped Middlesex post a 33 win over Gloucestershire at a sunny Brightside Ground, Bristol.
Morgan, returning from a broken finger, played superbly – cracking his 100 from 69 balls with 7 fours and 5 sixes – while Stirling batted through the innings scoring 127 from 143 balls. In pursuit of a total that was slightly above par on this ground, Gloucestershire were always chasing the game after they were 72/4 in the 13th over. A fine unbeaten 106 from Ian Cockbain, however, always kept them in the hunt until the latter stages of the reply.
But in the end celebrations were muted for the visitors, as victory for Essex meant that once again they fail to qualify for the final stages of the competition.
On a gloriously sunny afternoon, Gloucestershire won the toss and bowled first. Middlesex made measured progress in the initial Powerplay, scoring just 36 against some tight bowling from their former player Ryan Higgins, and David Payne playing his first game of the season after injury. Dawid Malan, the England incumbent, fared little better than England contender Nick Gubbins- both back in the Pavilion at 46/2.
Enter Morgan. The England ODI captain joined Stirling and the pair upped the tempo, adding 60 in the second ten overs. Morgan looked in excellent touch. He was particularly harsh on anything short, carving square with the wicket on the offside, albeit that his 50, from 39 balls, came with a lofted six over long- on.
Stirling’s half-century soon followed, a rather more sedate affair, from 66 balls. The pair looked well set; the signs for Gloucestershire ominous.
Morgan, adding lofted drives down the ground to his repertoire, powered to his century in the 36th over. But immediately after this he aimed to dispatch a Benny Howell delivery into the apartments at the Ashley Down end only to be well caught on the long-on rope. The 3rd wicket stand of was worth 158 from 123 balls.
Stirling reached his 100 in the 45th over, edging Chris Liddle to the third man boundary. Scored off 128 balls with a six and five fours it was an innings of immense value to the Londoners, its application evident in the fact that two thirds of his 100 came in singles. Western Australian Hilton Cartwright joined Stirling, cracking 60 from 41 balls with five 6s. He added an unbeaten 116 with Stirling.
In reply, the hosts set off at a brisk rate but lost George Hankins, Chris Dent and Howell for 60 before the initial Powerplay had ended. Gareth Roderick was run out in a mix-up with Cockbain, before a stand of 67 between Cockbain and Jack Taylor gave Gloucestershire some hope. The pair took a particular liking to the off-spin of Nathan Sowter, hitting 31 from his first three overs. But when Sowter returned at the Pavilion end he bowled Taylor with his first ball to put the visitors back in charge.
Ryan Higgins, the former Middlesex player, is having an excellent first season with his new county and here with Cockbain he gave Gloucestershire real hope, adding 116. But when he was out for 65 in the 43rd over the home innings limped to a tame end with Cockbain’s second List A century their only consolation.
After the game, Middlesex head coach Richard Scott expressed his disappointment at the side’s failure to make the final stages of the competition. He felt that the middle order batting too often let the side down, with the lower order having to dig the innings out of hole.
“When we played well, we played very well,” he said, adding that Morgan today was sublime and Stirling showing his maturity as a batter. But in the end it was a lack of consistency that was to blame.
Gloucestershire can offer some misfortune with the weather as a mitigating factor for their seventh position in the Group table. Two Bristol games abandoned without a ball bowled, and the match at Taunton called off after the team were in a winning position when the heavens opened, did not help their cause.
But in the end the lack of depth in the squad was clear for all to see. Long term injuries to Daniel Worrall (who was not replaced as the overseas player), Liam Norwell and David Payne (who hobbled off after bowling six overs today) and some disappointing bowling returns from Howell, Matt Taylor and Tom Smith showed that the bowling was not good enough. But the batting form of Hankins and Higgins at least were positive signs.