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  • Writer's pictureSean Sandys

Could the BFG Bowl Nibbely Out-Swingers though?

Luke Fletcher shines in unusual ways as he leads his side to a victory, denied only by the heavens.

London saw a healthy downpouring of rain on the Wednesday the day before Middlesex were due to play host to Notts in the famous Lords Cricket Ground. This, paired with patches and moments of drizzle throughout the week build up to this top-of-the-table affair, created a greener, lusher outfield and a softer, grassier wicket to play host to this clash of titans. With the jaw dropping team sheets across both sides including names such as Broad, Pattinson, Fletcher, Murtagh, Roland-Jones, Handscombe, Mullaney and many more, County Championship never looked so good. It was bound to be an evenly poised match throughout and this appeared so as on the first day each sides struck blows. Having won the toss and elected to field first Middlesex captain Peter Handscombe would have been rather pleased with himself when Tim Murtagh struck in the first over of the day. His positive mood and belief that he'd made the right decision were about to decrease in equal measure as a class personified, chanceless knock by England return hopeful Haseeb Hameed accompanied in the later stages by a fluent display of counterattacking batting performed by skip Steven Mullaney left the stags sitting rosily at 329-5 at the end of day one. Mullaney was still not out and surely only moments away from completing a fantastic century at 92*.

Me and my granny travelled up to Lords to watch this exciting contest on day two, with the promise of a bit of heat and sun we dressed accordingly and headed up to the famous ground bubbling with anticipation. We were met first off by overcast cloud cover and not a peak of sun, not exactly what we had expected. Upon entry to this amazing location we struggled to gain our bearings and wondered aimlessly underneath the two new stands searching for an area we could enter, as we finally found a row of steps leading into the Compton stand we heard an 'oh no!' followed by a polite roar and lots of clapping. Emerging from the tunneled steps into the stand we were able to place visuals to our audio, Toby Roland-Jones had struck Steven Mullaney on the pads first ball of the day, sending the captain back to the historic pavilion 8 short of his century. And the pressure kept piling on Notts, Roland-Jones was on fire running in with the members watching on behind him, and getting results. In the harsh conditions, overcast clouds and cold nipping breeze he was providing something to warm up the Middlesex hopefuls when he bowled Moores with an absolute jaffa, dipping in and seaming away clattering into the top of off stump. 6.3 overs gone in the day and Notts had gone 7-2. The spirited Middlesex comeback continued to gain strength as once more Roland-Jones produced another seed which followed in its predecessor's footsteps and clattered into Patterson-White's off stump, 12.4 overs gone and Notts in all sorts of trouble. It really was an entertaining spectacle as Pattinson settled in to an engaging contest between bat and ball. For the fourth time in the morning session ball one, as Roland Jones yet again got one to jump of a length and take the Aussie's edge on its journey to Simpson's gloves, 352-9. Only 23 runs added and four wickets taken, what a morning for Middlesex.

The cold breeze which had been keeping everyone in the ground relatively chilled was beginning to relent and with it so was the home teams pressure. Broad and Fletcher are a formidable paring with the ball but showed last week how they can also become a formidable paring with the bat, this was to be the case. Broad, the usual aggressor, struggled to get going and instead opted to milk singles and offer the strike to his partner in crime. Luke Fletcher AKA the BFG is a tremendously well liked and admired bowler in the County circuit but he is also a destructive talent who can take games out of the grasp of the opposition, and this he did here. His unrelenting 50 displayed a full array of shots played from all areas of the wicket, pulls, sweeps, drives, cuts, you name it. A highlight was his monstrous slog sweep six of Holden which whacked the scoreboard and landed not too far from us. When Andersson finally removed him the damage had been done, Notts had stumbled to a respectable total of 415 and had confidence and promise to take with them out of the lunch break and into their bowling. Middlesex re-emerged from the pavilion after lunch and simply couldn't take the heat of this stacked bowling attack. The same pair of Broad and Fletcher were at it again, bowling in tandem and locking up any potential scoring shots from the home team's openers. It truly was another marvelous spectacle to watch in the ground and up close now in the grand stand. It was the overseas Aussie Patinson who struck the first blow, getting one to die off a length and disturb the Furniture of Robson who left it all alone. De Caires replaced him in the middle and looked in good nick but don't worry the tidal wave which changed the game completely is about to come... Stoneman nudges one into the off side in Fletchers direction, compiling the odds of Fletchers unathletic physique and the fact he placed it on the BFG's weaker side he calls for the tight single. Fletcher bounds in, picks and fires, gaining a direct hit and running out De Caires to tremendous applause and crazy celebrations. He threw his hat far into the sky and ran off towards us in the main stand screaming for joy! The game had turned.

Middlesex floundered to a mediocre and below par 195 in 64.5 overs. Notts were batting before the end of the days play, with only one over to survive they sent in Fletcher to soak up all six balls of strike and save the top order. He did so easily, hitting a four in the process, and he built upon this platform into day three as he notched up an incredible feat of twin fifties in the game, not bad for a number eleven. Crazily he scored his first fifty at 11 and his second at 1 in the order. This was only the beginning in a ruthless assault by the Notts batsman as they piled on the runs with the envisaged idea of an attacking declaration. With a tuck into the leg side Mullaney brought about his well deserved century after falling disappointingly short in the first innings, and with the feat achieved Notts called it a day ready to take a break and come back firing in the final 30 overs of the day. Once again Middlesex just simply couldn't take the heat as the star of this match, the usual unsung hero who is an integral part to making County cricket tick, Luke Fletcher stormed in from the pavilion and dismissed not one but two Middlesex opening batsmen before a run was scored. Insane stuff, what a start, what a match for him, what a game, Middlesex limped to the close on 69/3 and a win was surely on the cards. Well, Robson batted exceptionally well, learning from the first innings where a poor lack of judgement brought about his demise, the Englishman hit a hearty 101 off 180 balls to steady the ship and give his side hope of survival. Holden stuck in well with his ex-international counterpart and in the early stages Middlesex looked capable of the unlikely. But nothing could stop Fletcher in this mood, especially when paired with Stuart Broad and James Pattinson, I posed the question in my title 'Could the BFG bowl nibbely out-swingers?' Well, this one certainly can. Win is still firmly in his grasp. And then the only possible tool left in Middlesex's cabinet, the only thing preventing the inevitable happened. The heavens opened and consistent rain persisted for the entire of the rest of the day. Calling a premature end to proceedings and an escape for Middlesex.

So, Middlesex luckily squeeze a draw from the div 2 favorites, it may not have been pretty but what's done is done. Sam Robson's century proved to be crucial as it guided them to another batting point which meant, despite being the worse side in the affair, and being on the backfoot since day one, Middlesex came away with 11 points, the same as the tally for Notts It leaves the top of div 2 looking like this:

  1. Middlesex 93

  2. Notts 84

  3. Glamorgan 83

It is all to play for and I will be at Lords next Friday to watch the league leaders take on Derbyshire and aim to cement their position at the top of the table into the break. See You Then!

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