v Essex 26-29 Jun

Match Report Specsavers County Championship 26 June 2017




ESSEX 106/0


Simon Harmer became the leading wicket-taker in Division One this season when he added a third successive five-wicket haul as Essex skittled Middlesex for 246 in the day-night Specsavers County Championship at Chelmsford.

The South African off-spinner had just 19 wickets to his name a week ago, but has doubled that in three innings and now has 38 at 24.53 each. He followed up his career-best match figures of 14 for 128 against Warwickshire with five Middlesex wickets for 77.

It had looked unlikely that Harmer would have much impact on the match when Mohammad Amir and Jamie Porter were swinging the pink ball prodigiously in the first 20 minutes, and Middlesex were two for two. But the ball suddenly softened and for a time it looked as if the batsmen were going to get on top.

But despite being thumped for sixes when Paul Stirling was in his pomp, Harmer reeled in the reigning champion’s middle-order. He took three wickets in 12 balls at a personal cost of one run to reduce Middlesex from 225 for six to 231 for nine.

Harmer’s only blip was to put down Stirling at second slip before the Irishman was fully into his stride. It was a routine catch at chest height for the usually reliable fielder. Stirling was 23; nine balls later he had reached 49. A further three balls and he had his third fifty-plus score in five Championship innings.

Dawid Malan and Steve Eskinazi had put on 126 for the third wicket at a steady pace, but it was during Stirling’s 50-ball 77, which included eight fours and five sixes, that it looked as though Middlesex might post something of note.

By close of play, at 9.17pm, Essex had taken a sizeable chunk out of Middlesex’s score with Alastair Cook and Nick Brown putting on an unbroken stand of 106 for the first wicket from 36 overs. Cook was 64, Browne 40.

The day-night experiment attracted a Chelmsford crowd that peaked around 2,200, slightly higher than usual, with the office staff replacing those who had trains to catch as the evening wore on.

Middlesex had given Essex first go with the pink cherry and must have regretted the decision almost immediately. Amir had his first Essex wicket on the board with the sixth ball of his opening spell, beating Nick Gubbins with one that came in and trapped him lbw. Five balls later, Nick Compton got one that held up and he snicked Porter behind.

Malan, captaining in the absence of James Franklin, who is suffering with a back complaint, led the Middlesex recovery with Eskinazi. Both batsmen reached their fifties in the first over after the first break, from successive balls. Malan scrambled a single to mid-on from the 78th ball he faced, Eskinazi from a paddle-sweep for his eighth four from 85 balls. They had been chanceless innings, bar the odd playing and missing, until Eskinazi, on 55, turned one through Dan Lawrence’s hands at short leg.

The third-wicket pair were finally parted after 33 overs when Simon Harmer got one to straighten and take the outside of Malan’s bat. Malan faced 93 deliveries for his 60.

Eskinazi followed soon after, edging Porter to Cook at first slip for a 111-ball 66. And Amir had John Simpson shuffled tentatively on to his back foot to be plumb lbw as Middlesex slipped from 126 for two to 158 for five in five overs.

Stirling decided that the best way to deal with Harmer was to hit to leg, and he did so to great effect. At the other end Ryan Higgins contributed just six to a sixth-wicket stand of 61. The young Zimbabwean then had a rush of blood and hit Harmer up in the air so high that Tom Westley covered the 20 yards from mid-on to mid-off and still had time to steady himself.

Stirling continued unabated and at one stage had hit three sixes in six balls, hooking two of them in an over from Paul Walter, and lifting Harmer straight back over the bowler’s head. But the one-man assault ended when he turned Harmer into Ryan ten Doeschate’s hands at cover.

Ollie Rayner left in similar fashion in the same over, and Harmer had a fifth wicket in his next over when Tim Murtagh was another lbw victim. The innings ended in its 60th over when Steven Finn patted the ball back to Ravi Bopara.

Cook and Browne went along serenely in reply with the England opener making the most of the experience of batting in the twilight. He was dropped in the covers by Gubbins off Finn on 48 before bringing up his fourth Championship score of more than fifty from 67 balls, nine of them hit to the boundary.

Simon Harmer played with a pink ball for the first time and said: “The seam is a little bit different. It didn’t spin or turn as consistently as I thought it would, which may be played to my advantage.

“There was a lot of bounce with the pink ball and it comes off the bat a lot better. All the bowlers felt there was extra bounce with it. We could have done better with the new ball, but it’s going to take time to adjust to the pink ball.”

Harmer ended up with another five-wicket haul, but admitted: “If I hadn’t dropped Stirling, Mohammad would have cleaned up the tail pretty quickly. He was in a nice rhythm. Five wickets went into my column that probably should have been his. But I am sure he will clean up in the second innings.

“I didn’t get a hand to it, it hit me in the chest. I pride myself on my fielding and catching and it was very frustrating. After that Stirling really started to tee off and started to take it away from us. I felt I was staring down the barrel of 150 from him from not too many balls. He was looking to be aggressive towards me and hit me out of the attack. I just tried to do the right things and put the ball in the right areas.”

Paul Stirling said: “We expected it to swing for a lot longer than it did and from what we’ve practised with and what the lads have experienced in the Abu Dhabi pink ball games. We thought it would have done a lot more towards the end of the day as well, but it’s done less than we thought.

“Harmer has been bowling well so he was going to be tricky on a pretty dry pitch. Combating him was going to be one of the tougher asks to do and we didn’t quite get it right against him today. He was getting a lot of bounce especially from the first end he bowled from [the River End] where he got two of his wickets. It was slightly uphill so adds a bit for him. When he gets a few revs on the ball you feel it can turn. He got a few to go and bowled well.

“We’d discussed it as a team to play it more off the back foot, but I don’t think it was the bounce that got the wickets. [It was] a few bad shots, myself included. I should have gone on and helped us bat about 25 more overs, which we needed to do and have less of a go at them tonight.”

No Play possible on day two, due to persistent rain.


Middlesex 246 & 27-0

Essex 542-3d 


Alastair Cook and Nick Browne rewrote a plethora of records in a first-wicket stand of 373 that thoroughly demoralised reigning champions Middlesex on the third day of the day-night Specsavers County Championship match at Chelmsford.

Cook contributed 193, Browne 221, before Essex declared on 542 for three, setting Middlesex 296 just to make the Division One leaders bat again. Openers Nick Gubbins and Nick Compton survived a torrid 13 overs under the floodlights against Mohammad Amir and Jamie Porter, but Middlesex need to bat resolutely throughout the final day to avoid a second defeat in three games.

It was Cook’s third century of the season, and was just two runs short of his highest score in a Championship career that began 14 years ago. After eight Championship outings this summer, Cook now heads off on England duty and the first Test against South Africa at Lord’s next Thursday. He goes with 667 first-class runs to his name at an average of 66.70.

Meanwhile, the last three times Browne has gone past three-figures he has more than doubled his tally. This was his first century of a season that started slowly, but which is now moving into overdrive. The partnership was finally ended after six and a half hours, just before tea, when Cook pushed forward to Ollie Rayner and was snaffled by Stevie Eskinazi at slip. Cook had faced 280 balls and hit 26 fours.

As daylight turned to twilight Varun Chopra set up Essex’s declaration with a big-hitting 100 not out from 75 balls, which included six sixes, all off Rayner. At various points on a cold, grey day, the pair ticked off records before eclipsing the all-time best for an Essex opening stand: the 316 set by Graham Gooch and Paul Prichard against Kent on the same ground in 1994.

Cook, who was dropped on 48 on Monday evening, survived another scare even before play started when James Foster parried the ball into his face during catching practice. The England opener fell to his knees, and stayed there for several minutes while medical staff checked his jaw. However, he was back in the middle 35 minutes later to resume his innings as if nothing had happened.

Records apart, it was a partnership of exemplary batsmanship from the Essex openers. The ball sped to the boundary so frequently, they became almost routine. Like his partner, Browne received a let-off on 46 when he slashed at Toby Roland-Jones outside off-stump and Steven Finn dropped a relatively easy chance at third slip. Browne took advantage and reached his fourth Championship fifty in five innings with his sixth four, pushed through the covers.

Cook glided Ryan Higgins to fine leg for the single that took him to three-figures. His century, which included 17 fours, took him 134 balls. That was 16 balls less than Browne required for his half-century, and told the story of the partnership. When they passed 209, they broke the record Essex first-wicket stand against Middlesex, beating the previous best set by Frederick Fane and Johnny Douglas at Leyton in 1906. At 233, they had passed the record of Percy Perrin and Charlie McGahey for any wicket against Middlesex, set in 1905 at Lord’s.

Later, at 372, they beat the total for any wicket in an Essex versus Middlesex encounter, which stood to Mike Gatting and Justin Langer at Southgate in 1998. Browne, who went to the first interval on 97, followed Cook to his ton when he pulled Paul Stirling through deep extra cover for four. It was his 13th boundary and came from 240 balls.

The batsmen were particularly severe when the new-ball was taken. Browne hit Roland-Jones for three boundaries in an over, and Cook straight-drove him for another in the next to pass 150 from 220 balls. A two to midwicket by Browne off Higgins took the pair beyond 316, which earnt a round of applause from a knowledgeable and appreciative crowd.

The carnage continued and Browne swept Ollie Rayner for his 18th boundary to reach his 150 from 323 balls. With Cook gone, the otherwise circumspect Browne allowed himself the luxury of chipping Dawid Malan over the bowler’s head for six to enter the 190s. A push into the onside brought up Browne’s double-hundred from 368 balls.

Chopra, the substitute replacing the England Lions-bound Tom Westley, followed suit with a six off Rayner over cow corner. Nick Compton might have ended his rampage on 39, but he dropped a diving chance on the midwicket boundary. Chopra’s fifty arrived with an identical six off Rayner and had taken just 51 balls. He was not finished there.

Browne’s seven-hour 32-minute marathon ended when he hit Rayner into the covers and was caught by Malan. Rayner bore the brunt of Chopra’s onslaught and finished with two for 152 from 29 overs.

The departure of Browne precipitated something of a collapse as Dan Lawrence lasted just five balls before moving away from his stumps to give himself room and being bowled by Higgins.


MIDDLESEX 246 a/o & 262 a/o

ESSEX 542-3d


Simon Harmer took nine for 95 to lead Essex to a dramatic penultimate-over victory against Middlesex and extend their lead at the top of the Specsavers County Championship to 29 points.

The South African off-spinner’s match figures of 14 for 172 was his second 14-wicket haul in successive matches, his fourth successive five-wicket return, and raised his season’s tally to 47 Championship wickets for the season to date.

When he trapped Steven Finn lbw and wheeled away in triumph, there were a maximum of eight balls remaining in the game. Harmer was given a standing ovation when he left the field after claiming his career best bowling figures.

It gave Essex their third successive Championship win. But for long periods of the final day, it looked as if Nick Compton was going to save the game for a Middlesex side who have now lost two of their last three games.

Compton batted nearly all day for 120 after six hours and 20 minutes at the crease. When he departed, the sixth of Harmer’s wickets, and Chelmsford bathed in floodlight, there were nine overs to go and Middlesex were 252 for six, chasing 296 to make Essex bat again. But four wickets went down in 27 balls as Essex recorded their second innings victory on the trot.

It had been a disappointing season for Compton, who had managed just 81 runs in four previous Championship innings this season, with a highest score of 22, after a delayed start due to injury. His 26th career first-class century encompassed 303 balls and contained 14 fours and one six.

Compton, 34 on Monday, was arguably the only batsman who came to terms with Harmer. Unlike many of the South African’s 28 victims over the last 11 days, Compton showed great respect and wariness. Apart from an early delivery he left alone as it turned in from outside off-stump, and gave him heart palpitations, he treated every ball on its merits.

However, he lost concentration when he played no shot to another from Harmer that started outside off-stump and turned, and departed lbw.

Much, much earlier, Compton tried to hit Harmer out of the attack with a six over long leg. It was the only real show of aggression in his innings, and it failed to get the intended result.

Compton shared a fourth-wicket stand of 153 with Paul Stirling that looked as if it would take the game away from Essex. The pair were immovable for 55 overs as Essex used seven bowlers, some of them rarely seen, in an attempt to split them. However, they did themselves no favours by twice putting down Stirling to comparatively easy chances.

Earlier it had looked as though Harmer was going to dismiss Middlesex on his own long before the floodlights came on. He took three for 15 from his first 26 deliveries of the day before Compton and Stirling settled into their stride in a stand that showed the off-spinner more respect and wariness than had some of their colleagues.

Harmer made an immediate breakthrough with the first ball after Middlesex had gone through 13 overs unscathed overnight. Nick Gubbins pushed forward to try and kill the turn and only managed to loop it into Alastair Cook’s hands at first slip.

His second wicket wasn’t long in coming. Stevie Eskanazi edged another that turned in on the batsman; it hit Cook in the chest, but he was able to scoop the earth-bound ball across for Varun Chopra to dive full-length and take the catch at leg slip.

In his next over, Harmer had Dawid Malan playing back as if to cut, only to miss the ball completely and lose his bails. Middlesex were 51 for three with around 87 overs still to negotiate.

Compton played watchfully, though when Harmer strayed fractionally off line, the ball was pulled firmly to the midwicket boundary on his way to a 111-ball half-century. Stirling received his first let-off when he had eked out 19, Cook spilling an edge off Paul Walter. The Irishman curbed the natural instincts that had brought him a six-hitting, 50-ball 77 in the first innings; he managed about a quarter of total in his first 50 balls second time around.

But he should have gone in Harmer’s first over of the second session when one popped up to Dan Lawrence at short leg and was grassed. Harmer’s fury was visible; so was Lawrence’s contrition as he kicked the ground in frustration, sending a plume of dust into the air. Stirling was 24 at the time.

Reprieved, the pair continued to prosper and raised their stand to 100 in 36 overs. Compton reached three-figures from 232 balls when he turned Harmer to midwicket shortly before the end of the second session. He had hit 12 fours and a six.
Stirling went to his fifty from 137 balls with a six over long-leg off Lawrence, but perished in the next over, caught at leg slip by Ravi Bopara to give Harmer wicket No4.

John Simpson joined Compton in his marathon vigil and they nudged runs past the six-man close-catching cordon in a stand of 35 before the ball angled off the wicketkeeper’s bat to give Cook another catch at slip and Harmer yet another wicket.
When the final hour was signalled at 8pm, five more wickets were required and Middlesex needed 49 runs to pass the 296 to make Essex bat again. After Compton’s departure, the furthest of Essex’s fielders was 20 yards from the bat.

As the game entered its denouement, Ryan Higgins edged Harmer to slip, and in the same over had Ollie Rayner lbw as 261 for six became 261 for eight in the space of four balls.
A third wicket went down for no additional score as Lawrence prevented Harmer taking all 10 wickets when he had Toby Roland-Jones lbw. There were six minutes of the last hour remaining, and two minutes on the clock when Steven Finn played a half-hearted shot and went lbw and Essex had won.

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