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Recent Match Report – Middlesex vs Lancashire, County Championship Division Two, 2nd Innings

Lancashire 427 (Jones 122, Hameed 117, Vilas 68, Jennings 52, Murtagh 5-69) and 39 for 3 beat Middlesex 265 (Eskinazi 75, Gubbins 55, Bailey 5-67) and 200 (Robson 63, Maxwell 5-40) by seven wickets

It would, of course, have been the height of metropolitan arrogance on Thursday morning to have dubbed this game a top-of-the-table contest; it would also have been plain wrong.

Four days ago only six of the ten counties in Division Two had played a minute of competitive cricket. But it would have been perfectly fair to see it as a match between sides whose seasons will be viewed as failures if they do not win promotion. That consideration gave the contest heft and it helped one understand the satisfaction of Lancashire’s players as they sat on the Lord’s balcony on Sunday afternoon after completing their comfortable seven-wicket victory.

Lancastrian happiness was both general and particular. It extended most noticeably to Haseeb Hameed and Rob Jones, whose centuries did much to make the win possible and who were batting when it was completed. Yet the greatest elation this chilly, golden evening was probably felt by Glenn Maxwell, whose career-best 5 for 40 had helped bowl Middlesex out for 200 on a wearing but by no means impossible pitch. And while Maxwell’s figures made him the first Australian since Ted McDonald in 1924 to take five wickets on his Lancashire debut, they also had a vastly more immediate significance. This is both a World Cup year and an Ashes summer.

Now Maxwell insists he is not playing county cricket merely to acclimatize for the World Cup or give himself a chance of appearing in the Ashes. His 50-over cricket is in good order already and he may well not play any more first-class matches until September. No, Maxwell is here partly because he enjoys the county game, and should his commitments with Australia end in July, he wants to play for Lancashire in the Blast and then maybe fit in some more red-ball cricket. To judge by the subtlety of his off-spin and the skill with which he used the Lord’s slope against Middlesex’s left-handers, supporters at Old Trafford should hope he gets his wish.

Indeed, so dominant was Maxwell after lunch – he took his five wickets in twelve overs from the Nursery End – that it was important to recall the patience Lancashire’s attack had shown before enjoying any success at all on the final morning. For more than 22 overs Sam Robson and nightwatchman James Harris batted without risk against seamers who rarely looked threatening.

The first hour of play was as eventful as a hermit’s housewarming. Robson reached his fifty, there was an lbw appeal and Jimmy Anderson made one lift from just short of a length to Harris. Foreign tourists taking the Lord’s tour – just £25 to you, sir – might have thought they were observing some convoluted religious ceremony. In a way, they were.

Then just before 12.30 Josh Bohannon was brought on at the Pavilion End and appeared to make an immediate breakthrough when Harris was caught down the leg side. Billy Taylor’s call of no ball stifled that triumph but four overs later the same batsman’s back-foot slash edged another catch to Brooke Guest and Lancashire had their first success. Three balls later they had another when Anderson, having bowled a couple of inswingers to Robson, moved one away late and the opener nicked another catch to the ‘keeper.

“Bang, bang,” fielders shout encouragingly to each other when batsmen seem in the ascendancy. These are not quite empty words. The cricket before lunch had shown how quickly a match can change and we were given another example five overs after the resumption. Bowling from the Nursery End, as he did throughout his 16.5 over spell, Maxwell inveigled Max Holden into a wild drive, which only edged a catch to Keaton Jennings at slip and then immediately persuaded Eoin Morgan to come half-forward to one which did not turn and trapped him leg before. (The Twirlers’ Co-operative Alliance will label it an arm-ball)

Middlesex were now six down and safety was slipping away from them. Dawid Malan and John Simpson defended for over an hour and took their side into the lead but without ever suggesting permanence. So it proved. Straight after reaching his fifty with a cut to backward point Malan came forward and the ball kissed his bat on the way to Guest. Three overs later Toby Roland-Jones lost his off stump to Anderson and the coup de grâce was left to Maxwell, who bowled Simpson and had Tim Murtagh lbw in the space of three balls.

Lancashire’s batsmen took 15 overs to knock off the required 39 runs and their innings was out of keeping with the ruthlessness they had displayed over the previous four days. Jennings was caught at long leg when hooking Murtagh before Guest and Maxwell rather surrendered their wickets to Robson, allowing this most occasional of spinners to double his first-class tally. No matter, perhaps. Hameed was 13 not out at the close and has now scored only 35 fewer championship runs by mid-April this year than he managed in the whole of last season. The next few months must suddenly seem so inviting to him. But he is not by himself in that.


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