Imposing Hampshire target overhauled with two balls to spare in outground thriller
Middlesex 217 for 7 (Cracknell 77, Simpson 62) beat Hampshire 215 for 6 (Short 48, McManus 47, Weatherley 41) by three wickets with two balls to spare
Middlesex pulled off their second highest T20 chase – by three wickets with two balls to spare – in a memorable match at Radlett which saw the next generation take charge of a county going through a difficult transition, and leave another ailing T20 side, Hampshire, fearing that they don’t seem to be in much of a transition at all.
Radlett is about as far away from the ECB’s vision of T20 cricket as it is possible to be. The dream is maximum revenue from large stadia, a football-style atmosphere and a sense of theatre that delights a TV audience. Start an overly loud, alcohol-fuelled chant at Radlett and you may be blackballed from the golf club or become the subject of gossip in the Ladies Circle.
It would be interesting to know what Middlesex and England’s limited-overs captain, Eoin Morgan, who makes no pretence that he shares the ECB’s modernising vision, privately thinks of it when he decamps from Lord’s. Last night, as a setting sun cast a gentle amber light over a fine victory, he might even have been getting to like it.What a game Radlett staged. Professional cricket in England obviously can’t financially survive on small club grounds, but is also about highly entertaining nights like this, fought out before people who care deeply, and even more wonderfully so when two players at the start of their careers come to the fore in such a fashion. Blake Cullen is not about to get a headline for his intelligent and aggressive 1 for 29 in four overs; Joe Cracknell can be assured of plaudits for a brilliant 77 from 42 balls which saw Middlesex home. Both give Middlesex faith that their player development is reaping dividends.
Hampshire’s first 200-plus total for three years was eminently chaseable in perfect batting conditions. But patently not by Middlesex, most of their supporters would have suggested. At 30 for 3, with Morgan trudging off, having reached at a very wide one to hole out at deep backward point, a philosophical kind of pessimism had taken hold.
But Cracknell, whose threat was illustrated by a 22-ball 50 against Kent, and John Simpson rallied with a stand of 122 from 59 balls. Cracknell possesses a natural belligerence and his youthful optimism began the surge – his innings full of commanding pulls and slog sweeps; Simpson then took over with successive sixes against Liam Dawson’s left-arm spin, never as stylish, but possessing the experience to know what he can get away with.Simpson was stumped at the second attempt, off the leg spin of Mason Crane for 62 from 30 balls. Cracknell, seeking an off-side boundary, where he had rarely ventured, also fell to Crane for 77 from 42. He had been selected ahead of Max Holden which, with due respect to Holden, was a bit of a no-brainer in this format.Crane had carried some threat, as illustrated by his 3 for 35 in three overs. Dawson’s full allocation had gone for 54 and his return to the England T20 squad looked even more like a selection of habit. But Hampshire’s skipper, James Vince, opted logically enough to give the final over to the seam of Brad Wheal with ten needed and Chris Green hammered a successive four and six over deep midwicket to give Middlesex the game.
Radlett is an idyllic county ground: a good batting surface, a ground lined by trees and hedges, and a convivial crowd adopting a Country Show attitude to any minor privations in the marquees and the portable toilets. They were allowed not far short of 1,000 spectators which is roughly the same as some of the smaller county grounds, which have stands and things. All to do with pinch points apparently.
Hampshire’s 215 for 6 was their first 200-plus score for three years, but it was far from impregnable. Their record since then is as bad as any county in the country and conditions – excellent pitch, fast outfield, short boundaries – was considerably bowler-friendly. They were also without Chris Wood which meant that Kyle Abbott played his first T20 match since turning out in the Lanka Premier League in December.
They were on the verge of a colossal Powerplay with 68 garnered from the first five overs and Vince and D’Arcy Short in a blissful world where they could do much as they pleased. With Middlesex lacking five pace bowlers because of injury or (in the case of Tom Helm) recovery from Covid-19, a colossal score looked on the cards.
Then came Cullen. Three off the first over; Vince’s head-high hook falling to deep backward square in his next. In his final over, he twice troubled Hampshire’s ex-Middlesex man, James Fuller, twice for pace, the first of them gloved to third man.
Cullen, a former England U19, has played for Middlesex since the U10s, and both player and club are beginning to reap the reward of years of endeavour. Pacey, with a strong action, he can reputedly swing the ball in four-day cricket, but here, he adapted intelligently and hit the pitch. The assessment of Middlesex’s director of cricket, Angus Fraser, that he “bowls like a grown man” could not have been more apparent.
Green’s night did not begin well. He averages below seven runs an over in a career spanning more than 70 matches, making him beloved of T20 aficionados, and he was also on the back of a five-for against Kent, with four wickets taken in the final over. He was Middlesex’s most expensive bowler, leaking 55 from four overs as his method of pushing it fast and wide across the right-hander brought no dividends.
If Middlesex prospered by slog sweeps, Hampshire perished by them, courtesy of the leg spin of Nathan Sowter. Short and Joe Weatherley, the latter after 41 from 22, both fell in such a fashion.
Middlesex missed chances in the field, and a succession of shots escaped clawing fingers. The most damaging, in more than one sense, was Sowter’s drop of Dawson, running in from deep backward square, his right ankle sprained in the process. But not damaged enough for him to play a part in Middlesex’s uplifting victory.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps