RESULT - MATCH TIED
GLOUCESTERSHIRE - 182/5 (20 overs)
MIDDLESEX 182/9 (20 overs)
MATCH REPORT PROVIDED BY ECB INDEPENDENT REPORTER NETWORK
Benny Howell took a wicket off the final ball to earn Gloucestershire a tie against Middlesex in a thrilling T20 Blast game at Cheltenham College.
Defending 182 for 5 and with Middlesex needing 59 off the last four overs, with only two wickets in hand, the points appeared to be heading the way of Gloucestershire. However, Ryan Higgins (68 not out off 28 balls) had different ideas and with Nathan Sowter providing able support, the pair took the visitors to within a single run of what would have been an unlikely victory.
Unfortunately, for Middlesex, Sowter struck Howell's final ball to Tom Smith at short cover and the Gloucestershire left-armer held on to earn his side a share of the spoils.
Batting first in front of a full house at the picturesque Cheltenham College ground, Gloucestershire made a rapid start to their innings, courtesy of experienced openers Michael Klinger and Phil Mustard.
The pair took 31 from the first three overs and looked well set when Klinger edged Tim Southee (20) behind at 31 for 1. Although Gloucestershire were severe on anything short and wide or too full, they struggled to cut free at any real pace.
They passed 50 off 31 balls but when Mustard departed in the 7th over, for 26, and Iain Cockbain followed, for 20, in the eighth, Middlesex found themselves in the box seat.
Sowter bowled particularly well from the Chapel End, with Tom Helm, Southee and Toby Roland-Jones providing healthy support.
Cameron Bancroft was always likely to be the weapon to which Gloucestershire would turn and he didn't disappoint. He struck the ball to all four corners of the College ground, reaching 50 off 30 balls, with four fours and two sixes. Unfortunately, for Gloucestershire, the Australian drove the very next ball, a full toss from Southee, straight down the throat of Brendon McCullum at extra cover.
Benny Howell weighed in with a useful 33 from 25 balls as Gloucestershire edged towards a competitive total and Kieran Noema-Barnett and Jack Taylor added some useful runs at the death.
The target should have been well within the reach of a Middlesex side that was piled high with top class batting. Unfortunately, for the visitors, they lacked early application and soon found themselves in a spot of bother.
Opener Paul Stirling, who struck his second ball back over Matt Taylor's head for six was first to perish – bowled, playing an expansive but loose shot, off the final ball of Taylor's opening over.
Dawid Malan, who hit David Payne for three boundaries in the left-armers first over, looked in decent touch as Middlesex progressed at a rate of 10 an over. However, Gloucestershire kept themselves in the hunt with the key wickets of McCullum and Morgan in successive overs from the College Lawn End.
First, McCullum (7) departed at 43 for 2, bowled by a slower delivery from Payne. Then, Morgan, who failed to score, sliced a Smith delivery to a grateful Payne on the extra cover boundary in the seventh over.
The big wicket came in Benny Howell's first over. Malan, who had struggled for the strike, top edged a length delivery to sub fielder George Hankins on the mid-wicket boundary.
Having rebuilt, courtesy of George Scott and John Simpson, Middlesex shot themselves in the foot when Simpson, having dispatched the third delivery of Howell's third over for six, ran himself out off the very next ball, for 15.
Scott departed in the same manner, for 24, in the 14th over, following a mix up with Higgins, before Roland-Jones offered a caught and bowled opportunity that was well taken by Jack Taylor. Bancroft then took the most remarkable of catches to send back Southee at 119 for 8.
Against the odds, Higgins quickly turned the tide and helped Middlesex to within touching distance of victory with 11, 19 and 18 off the 17th, 18th and 19th overs.
It meant the visitors required 11 off the final over, from Howell.
A six from Higgins put them in the box seat, but it was not to be as Howell and Smith came up trumps.