Middlesex lose 7 for 30 from position of dominance to leave game finely poised
Somerset 172 and 112 for 3 (Abell 62*) need 173 more runs to beat Middlesex 313 and 143 (Eskinazi 53)
A spirited fightback with the ball and the intervention of bad light in mid-afternoon left the opening game of Somerset’s County Championship season finely poised, with Middlesex seven final-day wickets away from victory but wondering how they have managed to let such a strong position slip.
The protagonists of the revival were Jack Leach and Josh Davey, who set a dramatic collapse in motion with three wickets each, but Tom Abell could yet propel himself into the lead role if he can build on his overnight score of 62. Middlesex are still favourites, not least with the prospect of another probing new-ball burst from Tim Murtagh and Ethan Bamber in tandem at some stage on Sunday afternoon, but that status is significantly more precarious than it was an hour into the third day.
If Somerset manage to pull the chase off, they will have Leach to thank for keeping them in the game. Bowling spin in England in the second week of April is a hazardous occupation, and Leach regularly found himself blowing hot air into his hands to avoid numbness from the chill that swept across St John’s Wood. But by conceding fewer than two runs an over in both innings, he has allowed Somerset to rotate their seamers from the other end and to maintain a sense of control throughout their time in the field.
Leach’s method was characteristically unremarkable. He has bowled at a slightly faster pace than usual, with a defensive line and field, and has rarely looked to spin the ball, instead relying on natural variation to induce errors. While Middlesex’s batsmen didn’t look to attack him, match figures of 4 for 61 from 33.4 overs will provide England with some optimism about Leach’s ability to perform the holding role that is so often required in home conditions – and his plucky defensive contribution to a last-wicket stand of 83 with Marchant de Lange on the second afternoon may yet prove vital to the outcome.
Middlesex were 113 for 3 and driving towards a substantial lead when Leach came into the attack, but were caught sleeping at the wheel as they gave up their final seven wickets for just 30 runs, all in relatively innocuous fashion. Leach set things in motion, inducing a prod forward from Robbie White which ended up in the hands of first slip, and when Stevie Eskinazi – who had completed a gritty half-century in the gloom – fell to a superb diving catch from Craig Overton at second slip off Davey, the collapse was underway.
Davey struck twice in four balls, pinning John Simpson and Toby Roland-Jones lbw, while Leach’s disciplined spell was rewarded when he trapped Martin Andersson in front with an arm ball. Lewis Gregory had Tom Helm caught behind, his solitary second-innings wicket following a five-for in the first, and Bamber had ideas above his station when attempting a slog-sweep off Leach only to be pinned leg-before. The meek slide earned Middlesex a ticking-off from their coach Stuart Law, who “told them up there that it wasn’t acceptable” after they “had them by the throat”, but owed as much to the quality of bowling as anything else.
That left Somerset needing 285, and when Tom Lammonby poked his first ball from Bamber to slip, it looked an insurmountable task. There are few tougher tests for a top-order batsman than opening the batting against Murtagh at Lord’s under floodlights and full cloud cover, and Abell and Tom Banton both rode their luck early on. They played and missed repeatedly outside the off stump, but they escaped unscathed, and were able to up the tempo against Middlesex’s change bowlers.
Banton may reflect that his innings of 37 was a missed opportunity to press on, but in the context of his recent struggles, it was a significant score. His winter was meant to include a breakthrough at the IPL, another eye-catching Big Bash season, and a starring role at the PSL to further his T20 World Cup credentials; in fact, he played twice each for Kolkata Knight Riders and Quetta Gladiators, withdrew from his BBL stint citing bubble fatigue, opted out of the IPL auction and ended his time in Pakistan in self-isolation following a positive Covid test. He was not at his fluent best here, and remains something of an unknown quantity in red-ball cricket, but a couple of crisply-struck boundaries served a reminder of his ability to time the ball.
It was Abell whose contribution was most significant. After struggling initially against the new ball, he scored at nearly a run a ball from that point, with a crashed cut off Helm the pick of his shots. Having himself received two chances during his first-innings 165, Sam Robson put down two catches at second slip, but neither would prove costly. Banton and James Hildreth were both aggrieved to have been given out lbw to Roland-Jones, but his two breakthroughs pegged Somerset back just as their target had started to look attainable.
And so the final day promises much, with Somerset’s batting depth giving their supporters reason to believe but Middlesex’s knowing their side are seven good balls away from an upset against the bookies’ favourites for Group Two. That the conclusion will unfold against the backdrop of 30,000 empty white seats rather than an eager Sunday crowd does this match a grave injustice.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
Recent Match Report – Essex vs Sussex South Group 2021
Skipper slams 75 from 44 to help make short work of small chase
Sussex 130 for 3 (Wright 75) beat Essex 128 for 8 (Garton 3-31) by seven wickets
The Blast’s all-time leading run-scorer missed the opening two rounds after splitting the webbing in his hand while practising fielding on the eve of the competition. But he made up for lost time by bringing up his fifty in 33 deliveries as Sussex chased down Essex’s below-par 128 for eight with 36 balls to spare.
Wright looked at home right from the start, with boundaries from his second and third deliveries – two of eight fours.
Opening partner Phil Salt earned a life when he bludgeoned a full toss to mid-on, only to earn a reprieve for the umpire to judge the ball to have been above waist-height, much to Simon Harmer’s chagrin. Salt was run out for 13, after putting on 54 with Wright before Travis Head added 60 together with the skipper.
Wright continued to his 26th Blast half-century, going past 8000 T20 career runs, with a pair of straight sixes and another over cow corner. He departed with six still needed but Delray Rawlins clattered the winning runs over long-off soon after.
Wright’s day had started perfectly as he won the toss and stuck the hosts in – although Will Buttleman struck successive sixes in the fourth over. On a used hybrid pitch, scoring proved difficult for Essex with only Buttleman, Michael Pepper and Jimmy Neesham’s strike rates topping 100, for those who reached double figures.
The strain on scoring was exemplified by the last over of the Powerplay, which saw just one run, as Paul Walter struggled to lay a bat on Chris Jordan – the run rate throughout the innings hovering just below seven an over.
To add to the Eagles’ woes, wickets were a regular occurrence. Tom Westley and Buttleman fell in the Powerplay – the former picking out deep midwicket off George Garton and the latter slapping a Tymal Mills slower ball to cover.
Walter was stumped, Ryan ten Doeschate clubbed old pal Ravi Bopara to long off, Pepper – having scored 38 off 25 balls – drilled to extra cover, Harmer miscued to midwicket, Jack Plom skied to mid-off and Neesham was comprehensively bowled.
Garton ended up with 3 for 31, with Mills, Jordan and Bopara all going at under a run-a-ball.
Eng vs Ind Women’s Test
“Maybe in the coming years it might also lead to a World Test Championship [for women]. You never know.”
“I feel this Test match and even the pink-ball Test, which is in Australia in the coming months, it’s just the beginning of having a three-format bilateral series,” Raj, India’s Test and ODI captain, said on the eve of the one-off Test against England in Bristol. “It probably opens up the channel to have another format added in a bilateral series and that will clearly help the overall standard of women’s cricket.
“Also, the players – I mean, you ask any modern-day cricketer, they still want to play the longer format because they eventually know that the format tests the skill of a player.”
The last time India played two or more Tests in a year was in 2014, which was also the last time they appeared in the format. The Bristol Test, which marks their return to red-ball cricket after a break of 2401 days, carries four points for a win under the multi-format system for the tour, which also includes three ODIs and three T20Is.
A draw will fetch the teams two points apiece and one point will be awarded for a no-result. Wins in the white-ball games will be worth two points each. The Ashes, which has been the only occasion that has involved Test matches in women’s cricket since 2014, follows the same grading system.
“It’s good to have the Test match in a series,” Raj said. ‘We [already] had the one-dayers and the T20Is. Maybe in the coming years it might also lead to a World Test Championship [for women]. You never know. This is just the beginning. I hope we continue to have bilateral series where all three formats are there.”
The announcement of both the Test against England and the pink-ball game against Australia, scheduled for September-October, was an unexpected development in Indian women’s cricket. On the international circuit, the ODI World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, to be played in the T20 format, both scheduled for next year, and the 2023 T20 World Cup remain the focal points of India’s long-term preparations. In domestic cricket, no red-ball tournaments for women’s cricketers have been held in India since the 2017-2018 season.
“There were a few sessions that we tried to have in the whites so that the girls don’t get [intimidated] when they walk into the ground tomorrow because for most of them it’s their first time getting into the ground in the whites,” Raj said. “That is one thing [Powar] tried to get into the sessions. There were four-five sessions where we trained together as a team in the whites, so we get a feel of it in the nets sessions and it doesn’t feel alien for the girls when they get onto the ground.
“He also got the seniors to speak to the other players who are less experienced about the format about the last time we played a Test match, so there was a lot of communication with Jhulan talking to the fast bowlers and I’m talking to the batters. So, I think when you have this communication going, it sort of gets the team get collectively prepared for the Test match.”
“In terms of marketing the sport, I think it is great to have a Test match live on television because clearly, a lot of people will follow, now with the pandemic [on] and there’s partial restrictions everywhere [because of lockdowns], so a lot of people will be watching the game,” she said. “As far as the players are concerned, it is equally important [to play well in this Test match]. Seven years back, the scenario was very different for women’s cricket.
“Having said that, that team never really thought whether the match is [covered] live or not; it never really crosses a players mind as long as we get in there and we put forward our best performance. Whether it is covered live or not, that’s [not] the players’ lookout. We are there to get there and give our best standard, and if it’s covered live, nothing like it because that’s how the sport will grow being viable.”
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha
Warwickshire close to signing Che Simmons, 17-year-old dubbed ‘new Jofra Archer’
Barbadian fast bowler has UK passport and impressed on trial with 2nd XI
Having made an excellent impression, Simmons is expected to be offered a deal which might well include some type of scholarship in order that he can complete his education in the UK. He currently attends Combermere School, which has a rich history of producing top players. As well has current West Indies Test captain, Kraigg Brathwaite, Wes Hall, Clyde Walcott, Frank Worrall and Chris Jordan also attended the school. So did the singer, Rihanna.
A fast bowler with a beautiful smooth run-up and action, Simmons has represented Barbados Under-15s and came to prominence by claiming all 10 wickets in an innings while playing for the Franklyn Stephenson Academy. He finished with the remarkable figures of 10 for 16 from 5.3 overs. Only two of the runs he conceded came off the bat.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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