Kent 238/7. Middlesex 239/4. Middlesex win by 6 wickets.
Paul Stirling and Eoin Morgan both scored attractive hundreds as Middlesex eased to a comfortable six-wicket victory against Kent in the Royal London One-day Cup at Lord’s. Stirling hit 112 and Morgan’s 103 not out as Middlesex chased down Kent’s 50-over total of 238 for 7 with 5.1 overs to spare but also central to the home side’s success was the brilliant bowling of new ball pair Steven Finn and Tim Murtagh.
Finn, a fearsome prospect particularly in an intimidating opening spell, finished with 2 for 31 from his ten overs while Murtagh even bowled a maiden, his third, in the 46th over of Kent’s innings on his way to figures of 2 for 28. Irishmen Stirling and Morgan put on 214 in 39 overs for the third wicket after Ryan Higgins edged Matt Coles’s first ball to first slip in the second over and Middlesex were reduced to 16 for 2 when Nick Gubbins was caught behind off Mitch Claydon in the fifth over. When Stirling eventually fell, chipping Joe Denly’s leg spin to short extra cover, only nine more runs were needed for victory. Morgan saw Middlesex home at 239 for 4, despite the further loss of George Bailey to Coles.
Both Stirling and Morgan struck a six and 13 fours. Both teams came into this South Group tie with two wins from four matches but, for such an important game in the eight-fixture group stage, both also had to do without two players chosen in the England Lions squad for their Tri-Series against the Pakistan and Sri Lanka A teams. Kent’s total, though below-par, was almost entirely due to a fighting third-wicket stand of 135 in 26 overs between Sean Dickson, whose 99 from 126 balls was a career-best in what was only the 24-year-old’s sixth List A appearance, and the veteran Darren Stevens, who scored 61 off 70 balls.
Finn deserved more than just the scalp of Kent captain Sam Northeast in a blistering new ball spell of 6-2-13-1. Running in hard from the Pavilion End, he beat Dickson several times early on and almost had him caught at mid wicket from a miscued clip off his pads. Northeast, on 2 and trying to work a fast, rising ball to leg, succeeded only in lobbing it back at Finn, who moved to his right and leapt high in his follow-through to take the return catch.
Murtagh was also a handful in his own impressive and probing opening spell of 8-2-26-1, and the seamer had Denly lbw for 4 in the third over of Kent’s innings. At 12 for 2, when Finn sent back Northeast, it looked as if Kent – with the England Lions pair of Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sam Billings missing from their top order – were in big trouble. It was a moot point, and one not lost on Kent supporters, whether Bell-Drummond and Billings, despite his magnificent 175 for the Lions against Pakistan A at Canterbury, would have learned more as prospective senior England batsmen had they instead been up against the fiery Finn and the wily Murtagh.
Certainly, Kent could have done with Billings’s capacity for explosive run-making in a match central to both teams’ ambitions of earning quarter-final qualification. Middlesex followers, meanwhile, were wondering about the absence from their attack of Toby Roland-Jones, with the in-form fast bowler left out of the Lions team, led by Dawid Malan, chosen to face Pakistan A. Somehow, Dickson and Stevens managed to see off Finn and Murtagh and, against the change bowlers, they began to build their fine partnership.
An extraordinary upper cut six off a suffering James Fuller by Stevens, with a vertical bat, helped to change the momentum of the innings. Stevens also drove Ollie Rayner’s off spin straight for six while Dickson played some quality strokes including a classical off drive for four against left-arm seamer James Franklin and a reverse-slapped boundary against Rayner.
When Stevens slog-swept Rayner straight into deep square leg’s hands in the 32nd over, the 40-year-old all-rounder slumped down on his bat in disappointment and Finn’s return, to bowl the 36th and 38th overs, brought Middlesex right back into the game. Dickson, having edged Finn through a vacant first slip to go to 99, chopped the next ball into his stumps and only Alex Blake, with 23, and Callum Jackson, who hit Fuller over long on for six in a 24-ball unbeaten 28, made much impression after that.