MIDDLESEX WON BY 17 RUNS: MIDDLESEX 173-8; ESSEX 156-8
Eoin Morgan, calmly and sedately, anchored Middlesex to their second T20 NatWest Blast victory of the season as they tamed a strangely out-of-sorts Essex.
The England one-day captain, coming in at number four, finished unbeaten on 59, topped up by a last-over thrash in which he hit Graham Napier for what turned out to be 22 priceless runs. Morgan clubbed Napier for two big sixes in that over to add to five fours in a knock that encompassed 41 balls.
New Zealand pace bowler Mitchell McClenaghan starred in his first appearance for Middlesex, taking four for 33.
Middlesex, winning the toss and batting, went off at a fair lick and were 71 for one off seven overs. But they became becalmed mid-innings by the occasional spin bowling of Dan Lawrence and Tom Westley and lost wickets with almost wanton abandon, and only Eoin Morgan’s unbeaten 59 carried Middlesex to what looked at the time an under-par total.
However, their 173 for eight looked better the longer Essex’s response went on. Only when Ashar Zaidi came to the wicket and cracked three sixes in a quick-fire 27 did the home side look remotely in the chase. But the target grew larger and larger in the gloom of a Chelmsford evening with one floodlight pylon out of action and making it difficult for the batsmen – and the occasional fielder – to spot the ball.
It had started well for Essex. Matt Quinn beat Dawid Malan for pace twice in successful balls and then had him dropped in the covers by Westley. But Brendon McCullum went after him with a one-bounce four over long-on and a six over long-off. But the New Zealander captain went for one big hit too many and was caught on the midwicket boundary by Callum Taylor for 16 off Graham Napier.
Quinn’s second over also went for 16 with Paul Stirling scooping a six into the balcony of the executive suite, before Malan greeted Wahab Riaz with a six over square and two fours in an over that cost 18.
However, it was Riaz who stopped Stirling’s 14-ball rampage the ball after he was hooked for six, by knocking over his off-stump. It was left to 18-year-old leg-spinner Lawrence to put the break on Malan with just four runs conceded off his first over, and four from his second to Eoin Morgan.
And in his third over Lawrence accounted for Malan and James Fuller in three balls and ended with remarkable figures of two for 22. Malan was caught on the long-on boundary by Jesse Ryder, and Fuller went two balls later, snapped up by Napier.
Ryan Higgins was run out to an incredible piece of fielding on the cover boundary where Quinn scooping the ball into Taylor’s hands for a throw into James Foster’s gloves that caught the batsman stranded halfway down the wicket. And John Simpson didn’t last long either, caught at wide mid-on by Ravi Bopara off Quinn, before James Franklin and McClenaghan were bowled within two balls by Napier.
Morgan had remained calm while wickets fell around him, but broke loose in the final over to smash Napier for 22 runs, including two sixes, to reach 50 off 39 balls and finish unbeaten on 59.
In reply, Lawrence had a let-off on two when he clubbed Tom Helm to wide mid-on where James Fuller put down a relatively simple catch. But Jesse Ryder was not so fortunate when Ryan Higgins raced round to claim his scalp at deep midwicket off Tom Helm.
Essex had started slowly, but Lawrence showed some intent with successive boundaries from the last two balls of the fifth over to raise the score to 33 for one. But next over Westley underclubbed McClenaghan to Brendon McCullum at midwicket before Ravi Bopara was run out as James Franklin followed up a tip-and-run from Lawrence and kicked the ball into the stumps.
Essex were 49 for three and seven overs had gone. And Lawrence, now up to 29, tried to reverse-sweep Nathan Souter over John Simpson’s head only for the wicketkeeper to turn and dive to claim it.
That brought in Ashar Zaidi, who thumped Souter’s first ball over midwicket for six, and was then dropped next ball by Stirling. Zaidi made the most of his escape with two massive heaves over wide midwicket for sixes off Stirling. But after the second maximum he advanced down the wicket to Stirling and was stumped by Simpson for a 13-ball 27.
Essex then required 68 off six overs. Callum Taylor hammered Helm to cow corner for six and Ryan ten Doeschate did the same next ball by pulling McClenaghan over square for another six. But Taylor was then caught and bowled by the New Zealander, two balls later James Foster lobbed into Stirling’s hands.
McClenaghan claimed his fourth wicket when Napier hit to Fuller without scoring. Ten Doeschate reached his fifty off 39 balls, including four fours and a six, later sending a second six into the River Can. But it was no more than consolation for the home crowd.