CLOSE OF PLAY
ESSEX WIN BY 9 RUNS
MATCH REPORT PROVIDED BY ECB INDEPENDENT REPORTER NETWORK
Ravi Bopara and Mohammad Amir bowled typically miserly four-over spells, conceding just 24 and 25 runs respectively, to keep alive Essex's outside chance of qualifying for the knockout stages of NatWest T20 Blast.
Essex's fourth win of the season moved them off the foot of the south group, but they require wins from their final three games to stand any hope of a quarter-final spot.
Bopara and Amir, who both claimed two wickets each, were well supported in the parsimonious stakes by Dan Lawrence and Simon Harmer as Middlesex were pulled up nine runs short in their pursuit of 173.
Nathan Sowter, the 24-year-old Australian leg-spinner, blasted a hole in the middle of the Essex innings with career-best T20 figures of four for 23, but Adam Wheater's 21-ball 43 laid the foundations for the home win.
Essex, put in, raced past 50 in the fifth over when Wheater drove Tim Southee straight for his fourth boundary. Varun Chopra matched his opening partner almost run-for-one as they put on 56 for the first wicket, scooping Tim Barber over fine leg for six. But he fell when chipping at catchable height to James Franklin at midwicket.
Wheater maintained his sharp upturn in form with the ball, and lofted Ryan Higgins for two sixes in an over to long leg. But he departed when he tried to chop Sowter's first ball to third man and was bowled.
Dan Lawrence came down the wicket and smashed Barber past the bowler for four, but tried to lift Sowter over long leg for six and was comfortably caught by Southee. Ashar Zaidi received a reprieve first ball when he pulled Sowter to midwicket where Tim Helm dropped the chance. It was not too costly as Zaidi attempted the same against Higgins and was caught by a tumbling Stevie Eskinazi.
Essex's hundred came up in a 10-ball 11th over from Barber courtesy of the third of four successive wides. When he switched to around the wicket, Ravi Bopara cut a straighter ball for four. Bopara followed up by thumping Paul Stirling for a six over the press-box stand and into the river behind.
But after contributing 27 from 25 balls, Bopara was caught on the long-leg boundary by Franklin. Sowter added a fourth wicket in the same over when he had James Foster lbw first ball attempting to sweep.
Ryan ten Doeschate cut Higgins for four so late off his stumps he looked in danger of being bowled, and a flick of the wrists sent another fine to the boundary off Helm. But a running catch on the cover boundary by George Scott accounted for the Essex captain on 25. Harmer followed giving Southee another catch at long leg and Mohammad Amir was run out from the last ball, leaving Paul Walter a pugnacious 20 not out.
Middlesex lost Paul Stirling in the second over of their reply when the Irishman holed out in deep midwicket where substitute fielder Callum Taylor claimed the steepler. But that brought in Eskinazi to join John Simpson and the pair hit five boundaries off seven balls against Matt Dixon and Paul Walter. Eskinazi clouted Dixon for six over cow corner and Simpson did likewise to Walter, pulling him to the midwicket boundary.
But the return of Mohammad Amir ended the second-wicket fun when Eskinazi chopped him straight to Taylor at point for a seven-ball 14. Simpson didn't stay much longer, misjudging Lawrence's first ball and going lbw for 30 from 19 balls. Lawrence's first over, the last in the powerplay went for just two and stalled Middlesex's early charge.
Bopara kept the brakes on, conceding four from each of his first two overs as Middlesex reached the halfway point on 79 for three. Taylor should have taken a third catch to send back Morgan on 21, but moving backwards at square leg he failed to read the ball's trajectory.
Morgan's fourth-wicket partnership with George Scott went past fifty in seven overs, but ended when it had got to 56. Morgan miscued sufficiently high to wide mid-on that Bopara had time to race back and take a memorable caught and bowled. Morgan had scored another 16 following his let-off to finish with 37 from 26 balls.
Lawrence's impressive figures were ruined when Scott clubbed his final ball for six over long off to leave the off-spinner with one for 29 from his four overs. But Amir came back and conceded just two runs from third to leave Middlesex needing 10 an over from the last five. It rose to 47 needed from the last four overs.
When James Franklin was caught at deep midwicket by Harmer off Bopara, Middlesex were 127 for five and in danger of imploding. Overs 15, 16 and 17, bowled by Amir, Harmer and Bopara, went for a combined 10 runs as the run-rate reached 14 an over.
Zaidi's first ball of the 18th over arrowed past Scott's ungainly swish and he was bowled for 36-ball 34. A faster ball from Amir accounted for Southee to leave Middlesex needing 26 from the final over with three wickets left. Higgins hit a six off Walter's penultimate ball, but with 12 required from the last ball the result was not in doubt.