Rain clouds were circling around South Hertfordshire on the morning of Middlesex’s home clash with Durham in the RLODC, but the mood of the spectators filtering into the ground did not seem to be anywhere near as gloomy.
Durham won the toss and elected to bat, meaning Tim Murtagh opened the bowling up the hill for Middlesex. Durham opener Graham Clark was off the mark quickly, slashing the veteran away through the covers for the first boundary of the day.
It could not be described as a fluid start, though, the next ball hitting the opener on the front pad (drawing a loud appeal from the Seaxes) and his next runs flying over the infield off a leading edge. However, I am sure that, if asked, Clark would be more than happy with scoring 12 off the first six balls no matter how he got them.
With spectators back at the out ground in Radlett, it was only a matter of time before one of them touched the ball, sparking the amusing spectacle of professional cricketers having to kick the ball back to the umpire so that it could be disinfected – an odd reminder of the times we are still living through.
On the pitch, Tim Murtagh was drawing chances and it was Alex Lees who found his shot in the hands of Sam Robson, a drilled, up-ish drive failing to clear mid-on and Durham were a batter down.
Scott Borthwick was the next man in and he was quick to find the boundary as well; a strange start for the veteran bowler Murtagh who had figures of 26 for 1 after only three overs. Middlesex skipper Peter Handscomb was perhaps feeling the same way, and turned to bowling-all-rounder James Harris to stem the flow of runs.
Fair to say, this did not bring about the desired result, and the visitors brought up their 50 during the 9th over and their 60 by the end of it. It was not just the bowlers letting down the home team, as several misfields on the boundary costing both runs and the wicket of Graham Clark when he was dropped by Luke Hollman on the square leg boundary. A poor start in Hertfordshire for the North London side.
With the powerplay over, left-arm orthodox spinner Thilan Walallawita took over from the top end but Clark was in no mood to slow down. He continued to back his hook against the bouncers of James Harris, as well, after being dropped off one and was rewarded when he brought up his 50 with a hard hit pull just in front of square leg. A fantastic 51* from 50 balls.
Luke Hollman took over from James Harris after that and did bowl a tidy over, finding some real turn for the first time in the day. Unfortunately, his work in the field was again under scrutiny when he allowed a bouncing ball to go over the rope via his chest; a difficult day for him so close to the home crowd. It was also this boundary that brought up the hundred for Durham in the 17th over.
As another boundary flew over the rope off the bat of Scott Borthwick, and the ball disappeared into a hedge, likely to never be found again, the situation for the home side was fraught. With two set bowlers at the crease, things were looking as bleak on the pitch for the Seaxes as the clouds did in the sky above; maybe the latter would come to the rescue of the former.
As if to emphasise my point, in the next few overs Borthwick and Clark brought up their 100 partnership, and Borthwick then went on to bring up his 50 with a huge heave to cow-corner that James Harris got a hand to before it bounced and crossed the rope for four. A difficult chance, for sure, but symptomatic of the way that the home side had gone about their business in the field all day.
Handscomb had to make a change at this point – anything to slow the visitors down – and it turned out to be a positive change. Sam Robson replaced Walillawita and was launched towards cow-corner by Graham Clark. This time Handscomb made no mistake, pocketing a difficult catch in the deep. Third time lucky for the Seaxes as Clark departed for 65(71) with the score 125-2.
For the first real-time, Durham were on the back foot and just needed new man Cameron Bancroft to steady the ship through the middle overs. It was, therefore, somewhat confusing when he tried to sweep Luke Hollman on his second ball, earning himself only an LWB and a duck for his troubles – Hollman making up for his mistakes in the field and the tide suddenly turning back to the home side. The score at the halfway mark: 129-3.
New man David Bedingham seemed to take an immediate fancy to the bowling of Luke Hollman, though, hitting him straight back down the ground for four and then a big six to cow-corner. That over ended up going for 15 runs, taking Bedingham to 23(16) and Durham to 161-3.
Things were not much better for Robson at the other end, either, with another 15 runs coming from it, including three boundaries. Fair to say, after a brief scare the Durham batsmen were not about to die wondering.
This approach was, eventually, the downfall of skipper Borthwick though as he heaved a length ball from Tim Murtagh straight down the throat of Jack Davies at deep mid-wicket. The end of Borthwick and the end of an impressive partnership of 66 from only 47 balls. The fall of Borthwick did not seem to be impacting the approach of his compatriots though, as new man Sean Dickson smashed a four straight back over the bowler Murtagh (and straight at me in the media tent), through a hedge, and into the next field over. Fair to say, he hit it quite hard.
Perhaps spurred on by the wicket, James Harris and wicketkeeper Robbie White combined to dismiss David Bedingham for 41(31) and the returning Ethan Bamber managed to get another wicket for Middlesex, this time Sean Dickinson. After dominating the opening thirty overs of the match, suddenly the score sat at 220-6 and the Seaxes were into the tail. Not a bad place to be having lost the toss.
Luke Doneathy provided a useful rear guard 50, including one huge six over long-on, before getting bowled by Bamber on the penultimate ball of the innings, but finishing on 288-8 Durham would likely have felt they could (and perhaps should) have scored more and Middlesex would have felt they had themselves a chase-able total.
After lunch, Robson was off to a quick start but Max Holden fell in the second over, smashing a cut shot straight to Graham Clark at point. 15-1 early on; an all too familiar position for the Seaxes this season. Chris Rushworth, not to be outdone by his opening partner Jack Campbell, quickly dealt with Chopra, the Middlesex number three walking a long way across his stumps and straight into a plumb LBW. So, 25-2 and well behind a DLS par of 63 at the end of the fifth over; not even the rain could save them now.
All the same, Durham’s all-time leading wicket-taker seemed keen to avoid the rain altogether. Rushworth bowled Sam Robson, whose scoring had slowed significantly since his first over, and runs looked very hard to come by at 37-3 from seven overs.
The fourth-wicket partnership did bring some stability and initiative. Both Robbie White and Peter Handscomb looked more comfortable at the crease than their earlier compatriots had, bringing up their 50 partnership in 55 balls and suddenly, the Seaxes were creeping closer and closer to the DLS par score whilst the dark clouds once again circled overhead.
The rain did stay away for the time being, though, and that allowed Handscomb to reach his 50. The Australian has not had the easiest time since settling in North London (a year later than he had expected to) but this knock was chance-less. The skipper looked in the zone and was on a mission to win this match and prove why the Seaxes had chosen him to lead them forward.
In the meantime, he led his partnership with White past the 100 mark with a deft touch down to third which also saw Middlesex go above the DLS par score for the first time since the first wicket fell. If this game had had a win predictor at the bottom of the screen, like ‘The Hundred’, it would have swung back and forth an incalculable number of times during this match. Closely contested in the strangest way; each side seemly happy to allow the other to dominate, full in the knowledge that their turn would later come.
Robbie White’s 50 came up in the 28th over and, much like Middlesex had done at a similar point, looked devoid of all ideas. Everything seemed a bit too easy for White and Handscomb but the visitors had already used six different bowlers; who could Borthwick turn to, to bring this match back into their control?
The answer: Jack Campbell. The returning opener picked up exactly where he had left off, building pressure before earning a nick from the bat of Robbie White that nestled comfortably in the gloves of Bancroft behind the stumps. Suddenly, that win predictor was swinging again.
And it was not done yet.
As mentioned above, Handscomb had rarely mistimed a shot all innings and it would be perhaps unfair to say he mistimed the shot that brought his downfall. Firm in defence behind a pace ball from Van Meekeren, he hit the ball down into the pitch only to see it continue into his off-stump. A peculiar way to get out but a moment that turned out to be key in the result of the match, because, perhaps fittingly given how this year has been for Middlesex, it was at this point, with the Seaxes behind the DLS par, that the rain finally arrived.
And what a downpour we were treated to. Brollies popped up around the boundary as the rain lashed down and you would be forgiven for thinking that would be the end of the day. Luckily, the umpires and the ground staff managed to find four overs of play; unluckily, Middlesex were set 55 to win in those four overs.
Things started brightly for the Seaxes, scoring 16 runs from the first over, including a ramp shot for four and a massive slog sweep for six off the bowling of Rushworth. This quick start was short-lived, as Hollman holed out to deep square-leg off the bowling of Borthwick and James Harris and Jack Davies could only manage a further four runs from the other five balls. And it was repeat business in the third over, as Davies holed out to deep square leg this time off the bowling of Liam Trevaskis.
That brought Thilian Walillawita to the crease, who is by no means an all-rounder, but you would not have known it. Two fours and a six from his bat meant that Middlesex needed 16 runs from the last over.
Harris only managed to balloon the first ball back to Meekeren but he did manage to get Walillawita back on strike. A big swing of his back saw the ball fly out towards the deep point boundary, but it was a few yards short and landed in the hands of Clark instead of the other side of the rope. This game was by no means for the weak hearted and by the grace of a few slashes, edges and wides, Middlesex needed six to win from the last ball with Tim Murtagh facing.
Durham bowled a wide. five to win, four to tie. A big swing of the bat… stopped at extra cover. Two runs scrambled but a Durham win by a margin of two runs.
What a match; I need a lie down.