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  • Writer's pictureSean Sandys

A Win 97 Years in the Making

Middlesex complete their eighth highest chase in the clubs history in a thrilling and nail biting match at Hove





The seaside destination of Brighton and Hove is nothing less then incredible this time of year, as early summer sunlight dappling across the calm coastline merges with a soothingly cold late spring breeze and is echoed by the quiet murmurs of traffic and louder gurgles from Seagulls. With the sun out in a cloudless side what better way to spend your Thursday-Sunday then travelling down to the 1st Central ground, Hove. An epicenter if you like, a middle point connecting the sun, the breeze, the low rumble and of course the seagulls, lots and lots of seagulls! Another incentive to travel down and watch the cricket taking place at hove was the caliber of players on display. No fewer then ten capped internationals filled the two lineups named for this clash, furthermore multiple u-19s internationally capped players and one ex-u-19s captain completed the list. A high class affair, a true testament to the never ending wonders and joys of the County Championship, and a clear example of the quality of division two this year. A point which is a promising thought for all England hopefuls out there, to see the high class and quality that their beloved country can still produce as well as the way that homegrown English youngsters can more then hold their own against the terrifying might of Shaeen Shah Afridi or bowl unplayable to the Australian grit of Peter Handscombe. So, this match in Hove for round five of the County Championship was truly a showcase, a showcase of County Cricket, a showcase of overseas talent, a Showcase of local talent and more importantly the cricket we witnessed across a full four days proved it to be a showcase of entertaining cricket.




But enough dribble dribble romanticizing the game, how about an actual description of what went on in this clash and why it lived up to the hype I acclaimed it in my earlier paragraph. Well, the perfect place to begin is on a perfect, yet cold and unexpected overcast morning in Hove. The loud clunks and knocks erupting from the nets playing a perfect backing track to the captains as they strode confidently to the square to inspect the wicket, and complete the toss.

It was little surprise to any when the covers were wheeled off the square to reveal a strip free of grass and shimmering in its golden nature against the cloudy skies, the Sussex groundman like to keep the pitch bare of any grass and solid in its appearance. The hard under soil of the square, mixed with golden colored nature and small lush outfield make this a batsman's paradise and sure enough without hesitation Sussex captain instantly elected to bat first before hurrying back to the shed to strap on his pads, the hope of good runs wafting in his brain. He would be back on his way to the shed from the square 30 minutes later however as the terrifying overseas prospect of Shaeen Shah Afridi, proved why there is so much terror mounted behind his name and why he is one of the best bowlers in the world right now, as he managed to get a full seaming delivery to dip in towards Haines at a quick pace before straightening of the surface and skipping up past his bat to remove his off stump. A typical charismatic two arms in the air ensued as pandemonium erupted from the away players and Sussex members feared the worse. However, it would be the Sussex fans who would get the last laugh for the next 3 and a half hours as they watched too English born prospects in name of Orr and Alsop bat stupendisouly well on the flat track. Afridi lost some of his earlier zip and was replaced and from there on in pretty much right up until tea Sussex were in control, Orr and Alsop both drove fantastically and the pair made significant use of the short boundary, none more so then Orr when a miscalculated uppish pull which would have been easily clutched in the deep had it been from the other end sailed over the fielders head into the pavilion for six. Alsop the aggressor caught up with his teammate and accelerated past fifty and towards an allusive tone. And the century would be his with a destructive drive through the offside he pummeled his arms towards the sky and leaped in joy as the ball kissed the rope and bought up a well deserved century in 160 balls with 12 fours. It seemed as if Orr would follow, and with spinner Luke Hollman brought into the attack last over before tea this would be his chance. With Orr on 99 Hollman tossed up a drifting, wide and full 'hit me' ball to which Orr duly obliged as he lunged forward and aimed to sludger the delivery through the offside to bring up three figures, this wasn't to be the case unfortunately for the Sussex batsman as the ball gripped, bounced, caught his edge and was well caught by Handscombe at first slip. Bitterly sad for the Sussex Opener and a real downer to bring up the tea interval.


The rest of Sussex's first innings as well as Middlesex's' first innings travelled by in what was a strange blur. Contributions from Garton and Rizwan down the order saved the Martlets from an almighty collapse and got them to a first innings total of 392. Middlesex in reply found themselves 0/1 after the first over as Ollie Robinson mustered up the dream return from a lengthy injury with a suitably dreamy outswinger to remover Robson for 0. Once again healthy middle order contributions from Holden, Simpson, Hollman and Andersson (the highest of which being 82) saved face for Middlesex and rescued them somewhat from despair and back into a fighting chance of the game at 358 all out. Yet more support and belief was funneled for this game for English fans as Ollie Robinson looked as destructive as ever on his way to dismissing five Middlesex batsman in 24 overs with 7 maidens and only conceding 66 runs. A truly masterful bowling performance which included two bowled off leaves as the Sussex quick managed to completely fool not one but two Middlesex batsman. Sussex had 51 overs until stumps and aimed to make Middlesex pay. And this they did, despite losing the top three wickets of Haines and Orr very cheaply leaving their side 6/2, Sussex relied on the ever dependable and simply mesmerizing Pujara to dig them out of a hole, and this he did. Displaying his full array of stroke making capabilities the Indian looked on the same fine form which has already earned him three County Championship centuries as he bulldozed his way to an astonishing 125 not out at the close of play. Alsop was a good partner in crime, chipping in with a handy 66 and with Tom Clarke still not out by days end as well Sussex were poised dangerously at 263/3. The next day they furthered their lead and continued their onslaught for the better part of the morning session, until Luke Hollman removed Tom Clarke for 77 and with Pujara sat comfortably at the other end on a magnificent 170 (197) Tom Haines decided to call the innings there and set a fighting declaration at 335/4d, 370 to win.



You see this is where the game is so good, Sussex didn't dawdle along until after lunch and until after all other possible results bar draw had been wiped from the table, only to bowl a meaningless 43 overs for one or two wickets, bowl a couple of part timers and then shake hands and get out of there. No they set up a thrilling climax, leaving the game with just enough time to take all ten wickets but equally leaving the door ajar enough to let Middlesex toy with the flirtatious idea of chasing the intimidating total. And the gamble started well for Sussex as Beard struck in his first over to remove Marl Stoneman for one and leave the scores 1-1. With now two internationally and ashes capped batsman at the crease this was a crucial stage of the game, the wearing and dying pitch had managed to hold firm enough to still play placid and flat however the pressures of the chase and inform bowling attack could swing the game the other way, it was all to play for. and in the next 48 overs it was Middlesex who won the contest. Amassing 209 runs for the loss of zero wickets at a run rate of 4 an over. Handscomb played very well for his subdued and patient 79 off 142 balls with seven stern boundaries chucked in their for good measure. But when Robinson returned to the attack and snuck one past his defense and onto the pad sending Handscombe on his way, had the game swung? Had the momentum shifted? Sadly for Sussex faithful, this wasn't the case. The departure of the away sides captain only brought Max Holden to the crease, and the young lad played a very different innings to his predecessor. Slashing away a four first ball into the offside off Robinson, Max showed he meaned business. And this ruthless energy didn't cease as the youngster grew in confidence with every boundary. There was one more potential crossroad to be negotiated however, this was when Robinson returned to the attack and once again this equaled wickets as the English test international struck the pad again of Robson and sent the experienced campaigner back to the shed for a magnificent 149 off 181 balls, could this spark Middlesex's' downfall? Could this slow the increasing run rate? The short answer is no. Martin Andersson was promoted up the order and given a free license to have a go, doing so right off his very first ball as he went for a big hack through the onside only to see it trickle away past his stumps for an inside edged four. The momentum kept building as the pair ran well, if slightly dangerously at times, and a Martin Andersson straight six into the pavilion stamped home the unlikely win. In the end an anti climactic tuck into the onside bought up the win, and in doing so also bought up Middlesex's eighth highest run chase ever, breaking a 97 year old record. Oh! What a match!





If this game wasn't an advertisement to watch first class cricket the I don't knw what is. Entertaining and enthralling from moment one, the match swung backwards and forwards like a pendulum, never making up its mind on who should win right until the very last second. What a game, what a league, what a sport. Get onto club websites or YouTube directly next week to tune in and support the counties as well as to witness history like this. See you then!

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