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CLOSE – Middlesex 252 & 201 Hampshire 296 & 131-7

Joe Weatherley was Hampshire’s hero as he kept his cool with an unbeaten half-century to clinch a tense three-wicket victory against Middlesex in the Bob Willis Trophy.

The opener – who top-scored with 98 in the first innings – stood firm again despite a clatter of wickets on the fourth morning at Radlett, sealing Hampshire’s success with a cover-driven boundary off Tom Helm as he finished 64 not out.

Weatherley shared an unbroken eighth-wicket stand of 53 with Keith Barker (28*) to steer the visitors over the line after Tim Murtagh (3-41 ) and Thilan Walallawita (3-28 ) had raised Middlesex hopes of an unlikely triumph.

The pair reduced their opponents to 108-7 – with Liam Dawson already out of the game due to a torn Achilles tendon and last man Ryan Stevenson, who was also injured after colliding with a marquee pole while fielding on the previous day, standing by to bat with a runner if necessary.

Hampshire began play as clear favourites at 60-2, needing another 98 for victory, but they were checked by Murtagh’s second ball of the day, which Sam Northeast (8) edged onto his pad for Max Holden to scoop up the catch at point.

New batsman Ian Holland was fortunate to survive his first delivery, which found the edge but was spilled by second slip Nathan Sowter and he took advantage with some attacking shots that raised the run-rate.

Left-armer Walallawita applied the brakes, stemming the flow of runs to a trickle and piling renewed pressure on the Hampshire batsmen – which Murtagh gratefully exploited at the other end.

Sowter made amends for his earlier drop, taking the catch off Murtagh to prise out Holland (17) and, when Harry Came (1) fell to a tumbling Sam Robson at first slip, the visitors were in trouble at 87-5.

While Weatherley dropped anchor, Lewis McManus took up the baton with a quickfire 13, but he was bamboozled playing back to Walallawita, who then had James Fuller (0) caught behind prodding outside off the stump in his next over.

However, Barker – hobbling throughout due to a foot injury – revived Hampshire’s hopes by reverse-sweeping Walallawita to the boundary and picking up four more with an on-drive off James Harris.

Weatherley completed his half-century, from 159 balls, during the second over after lunch, driving Sowter through mid-on for four, while Barker weighed in with two more boundaries before his partner applied the finishing touch.

DAY FOUR LUNCH – Middlesex 252 & 201 Hampshire 296 & 131-7

Tim Murtagh and Thilan Walallawita bowled Middlesex back into contention against Hampshire on a gripping final morning at Radlett – with their Bob Willis Trophy tie still in the balance.

The Middlesex pair captured five wickets between them to reduce the visitors – chasing 158 for victory – to 108-7 with Liam Dawson already out of the game due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

However, Joe Weatherley (48*) remains at the crease, having added 23 with Keith Barker to bring the target down to 27 at lunch. Last man Ryan Stevenson will bat with a runner if required.

Murtagh immediately lifted Middlesex spirits with the second ball of the morning as Sam Northeast (8) pushed forward and the bat-pad catch looped up for Max Holden to claim, diving in from point.

The veteran seamer might have made it two wickets in two balls as his next delivery took the edge of Ian Holland’s bat, but Nathan Sowter was unable to gobble up the chance at second slip.

Holland began to score freely, but the introduction of left-armer Walallawita proved crucial as he reeled off a string of maidens to tie up one end.

That enabled Murtagh to cash in, tempting Holland (17) to nudge to second slip – where Sowter redeemed himself – and removing Harry Came (1) in the same manner, with Sam Robson taking a tumbling catch.

Lewis McManus (13) threatened to turn the contest back in Hampshire’s favour before he was bowled by Walallawita, who then had James Fuller (0) caught behind.

DAY THREE CLOSE – Middlesex 252 & 201 Hampshire 296-9 & 60-2

Felix Organ stepped into the breach to bowl injury-hit Hampshire into a winning position with a four-wicket haul against Middlesex at Radlett.

Organ was called on to send down 13 overs of off-breaks during Middlesex’s second innings after a second freak injury in as many days, to seamer Ryan Stevenson, deprived the visitors of two frontline bowlers.

But the 21-year-old responded with figures of 4-42 – his second-best return in red-ball cricket – as the home side were dismissed for 201 to leave Hampshire chasing a victory target of 158.

Although they lost two wickets – and will probably have just nine fit batsmen – Sam Northeast’s side advanced to 60-2 at stumps and go into the final day as clear favourites to clinch their first victory in the Bob Willis Trophy.

The visitors had resumed their first innings in the morning with a 27-run advantage – which they extended by another 17 before Tim Murtagh (4-61) claimed the last two wickets inside the first half-hour.

Middlesex quickly wiped out their 44-run deficit, with Max Holden (26) playing some attacking shots before Keith Barker (2-53) had him caught behind.

But play was held up soon afterwards when Stevenson, chasing Sam Robson’s leg-side drive to the boundary, skidded into a pitchside marquee and gashed his shin on one of the supporting poles.

Even without both Stevenson and spinner Liam Dawson – who had sustained an Achilles tendon injury while batting the previous day – Hampshire’s remaining bowlers were able to peg their hosts back.

Ian Holland picked up the wicket of Robson (21) just before lunch, but Nick Gubbins and Middlesex captain Stephen Eskinazi threatened to seize control of the game as they put together a partnership of 54.

Gubbins was progressing nicely, with 46 from 65 deliveries, until he was given out leg before to former team-mate James Fuller – although it appeared the ball might have taken the left-hander’s inside edge before hitting the pad.

However, his dismissal prompted a clatter of wickets, with Eskinazi (29) top-edging a sweep into the hands of deep square leg in Organ’s next over and Martin Andersson (12) neatly yorked by Fuller (2-58).

A blinding catch at cover by substitute Brad Wheal removed Nathan Sowter (3) to reward Holland (2-39) for his tidy spell, while Organ also trapped John Simpson lbw for 23 before returning to take two more wickets post-tea.

Murtagh (8) registered a couple of boundaries off Barker to lift the Middlesex total above 200 before edging the left-armer to second slip, leaving Hampshire to face 26 overs ahead of stumps.

Organ and Joe Weatherley – who top scored with 98 in Hampshire’s first innings – made steady progress until James Harris produced the breakthrough in his first over, tempting Organ (10) to prod at an outswinger.

Left-arm spinner Thilan Wallalawita matched that feat by having Tom Alsop (13), who had just survived a sharp chance to short leg, caught at first slip with his fifth delivery to leave Hampshire 48-2.

But Weatherley (23*) and Northeast (8*) batted sensibly until the close, bringing the target down to just 98 going into day four.

DAY THREE TEA – Middlesex 252 & 186-7 Hampshire 296-9

Opening batsman Felix Organ answered Hampshire’s SOS call to take two Middlesex wickets and tilt the game back in his side’s favour on the third afternoon at Radlett.

Organ was pressed into service with his off-breaks after Hampshire – already without spinner Liam Dawson – saw their bowling options depleted even further by an injury to seamer Ryan Stevenson.

Stevenson crashed into a marquee pole while fielding on the boundary just before lunch to leave Hampshire with only three frontline bowlers – as well as facing the prospect of batting with nine men when they chase a target.

However, Organ stepped into the breach, claiming two wickets in his 11 overs, while former Middlesex bowler James Fuller removed the dangerous Nick Gubbins and Martin Andersson in quick succession to leave the home side struggling at 186-7, an overall advantage of 142.

Resuming on 279-7 in the morning, Hampshire had been aiming to clinch a third batting point, but they narrowly missed out as Tim Murtagh (4-61) mopped up the innings inside the first half-hour.

Although Fuller (16*) struck a couple of boundaries to bring his side within sight of the 300 milestone, Murtagh had Lewis McManus (16), caught at second slip before Stevenson (0) feathered one into the keeper’s gloves.

Middlesex quickly knocked off the first-innings deficit of 44 as their top order all got started, but were unable to capitalise against the visitors’ depleted bowling attack.

Max Holden (26) rattled off a string of boundaries before Keith Barker found his outside edge, while Sam Robson (21) departed just before lunch, caught at second slip off Ian Holland.

Gubbins looked in good touch, particularly off the back foot and he lifted the Middlesex total past three figures with a straight drive off Barker, while Stephen Eskinazi began to open up after a cagey start.

But the dismissal of Gubbins – who felt he had inside-edged onto his pad – for 46 triggered a middle-order wobble as Eskinazi (29) swept Organ into the hands of deep square leg before Andersson, having begun with two fours, was yorked by Fuller.

John Simpson (23) was next to depart, leg before to Organ, while Nathan Sowter (3) fell to a superb diving catch by substitute Brad Wheal at cover off Ian Holland.

James Harris – having survived two chances – remained unbeaten on 17 at the interval to maintain Middlesex hopes of setting their opponents a tricky target in the fourth innings.

DAY THREE LUNCH – Middlesex 252 & 75-2 Hampshire 296-9

Hampshire’s depleted bowling attack was reduced even further after they suffered another freak injury on the third morning of their Bob Willis Trophy clash with Middlesex at Radlett.

Already without left-arm spinner Liam Dawson, who was stretchered off with a suspected torn Achilles tendon on the previous evening, the visitors also lost seamer Ryan Stevenson early in Middlesex’s second innings.

Stevenson skidded into one of the pitchside marquees while chasing Sam Robson’s leg-side drive and collided heavily with a pole, resulting in a delay while he received treatment.

That left Hampshire down to three frontline bowlers – with temperatures due to reach the mid-30s later today – and facing major problems.

Middlesex made short work of wiping out their first-innings deficit of 44, although they lost both openers to reach 75-2 at lunch – an advantage of 31.

Earlier, Tim Murtagh (4-61) cleaned up the Hampshire tail within the opening half-hour – although neither side managed to secure the extra bonus point on offer.

Murtagh had Lewis McManus (16) caught slashing to second slip before removing Stevenson (0), caught behind off a thin edge as his side posted 296-9, with James Fuller unbeaten on 16.

A flurry of boundaries from Max Holden (26) gave Middlesex a flying start in their second innings before Keith Barker found the left-hander’s outside edge.

Ian Holland then struck just before the interval, having Robson (21) caught at second slip.

DAY TWO - CLOSE : Middlesex 252 Hampshire 279-7

All-rounder Liam Dawson was stretchered off with what looked a serious ankle injury to mar a productive day for Hampshire in their Bob Willis Trophy match against Middlesex at Radlett.

The 30-year-old, who was part of England’s white-ball squad for their recent ODI series against Ireland, fell awkwardly while batting during the final session and had to be carried from the field.

Dawson’s attacking knock of 43 had already helped Hampshire to take a first-innings lead when he crumpled to the ground, visibly in pain after playing a defensive shot against Tom Helm.

There was a 15-minute delay while Dawson received treatment at the wicket, but it was already evident he would be unable to continue.

Despite that setback, the visitors ended the second day in a strong position, with opener Joe Weatherley falling just two short of what would have been his second first-class century and captain Sam Northeast hitting 51 as they dominated the Middlesex bowling.

Hampshire had appeared set for an uphill battle when they lost Tom Alsop (4) in the third over of the day, the left-hander edging a rising delivery from Tom Helm as John Simpson leapt to take the catch.

That left the visitors in an unsteady position at 28-3 – and it could have been worse as both Weatherley and Northeast survived chances to second slip before their partnership had really been established.

Northeast’s, a fast thick edge when he had 14 to his name, would have represented a magnificent catch by Nathan Sowter – but the opportunity for the same fielder to remove Weatherley off the bowling of James Harris was altogether more routine.

The pair made Middlesex pay as they accumulated a fourth-wicket partnership of 139, with Weatherley stroking a midwicket boundary off Tim Murtagh (2-49) to raise his half-century off 157 balls.

The skipper, meanwhile, also reached his 50 in style, slamming Helm for four through the covers – but he departed in the next over after left-arm spinner Thilan Wallalawita returned for his second spell of the day.

Wallalawita’s second delivery tempted Northeast to cut, but the ball sailed towards gully, where Sowter – now relocated from second slip – gathered the catch safely.

Weatherley, who went to tea on 90, had rarely looked in anything resembling a hurry during the first two sessions, but he resumed in attacking mode, driving Murtagh’s first two balls of the evening for boundaries to advance to 98.

However, the batsman would get no further as he was adjudged leg before in Murtagh’s next over, attempting to flick a straight ball off his pads.

But Middlesex were unable to capitalise on the breakthrough as Dawson maintained the tempo, hooking Harris for successive fours and putting on 51 for the sixth wicket with Ian Holland.

Holland, who had taken 20 deliveries to get off the mark, eventually contributed a breezy 22 to steer his side past the Seaxes’ first-innings total before Harris had him caught in the slips.

That, along with Dawson’s injury, slowed Hampshire’s momentum and they also lost Harry Came (5), lbw to Sowter in the penultimate over as they reached stumps 27 runs ahead of their hosts.

Day Two - Tea: Middlesex 252 Hampshire 196-4

Hampshire opener Joe Weatherley was closing in on the second first-class century of his career as the visitors reached a commanding position at 196-4 against Middlesex.

The 23-year-old had advanced to 90 not out at the tea interval, with his occupation of the crease approaching five hours as Hampshire took control of their Bob Willis Trophy South Group match at Radlett.

Weatherley, whose only previous red-ball ton came against Lancashire more than two years ago, shared a fourth-wicket partnership of 137 with skipper Sam Northeast (51) to launch his side’s recovery from 28-3.

The Hampshire batsman made the most of a let-off on 26, when he nudged a James Harris outswinger to second slip – but Nathan Sowter was unable to cling on to the chance.

Resuming at 27-2 overnight, Hampshire seemed set for a testing day when they lost another wicket in the third over, with Tom Helm having Tom Alsop (4) caught behind off a delivery that seamed and bounced.

But Northeast led a charmed life as he survived three edges – one a sharp chance to Sowter when he had scored just 14 – and he and Weatherley began to frustrate their hosts.

Weatherley looked particularly strong on the leg side, swatting a series of short balls away with ease and clipping Tim Murtagh through midwicket for the boundary that brought up his half-century from 157 balls.

Northeast also reached his 50 – from 136 deliveries – with a four, creaming Helm’s half-volley to the cover boundary as the pair continued to grind down Middlesex’s bowlers.

Home captain Stephen Eskinazi rang the changes, but it was the introduction of Sri Lanka-born spinner Thilan Wallalawita – making only his second senior appearance – that resulted in a desperately-needed breakthrough.

Northeast’s attempted cut, off the second delivery of the left-armer’s spell, flew straight to gully where Sowter made amends for his earlier drop by pouching the catch.

New batsman Liam Dawson looked keen to maintain the visitors’ momentum, immediately sweeping Wallalawita for successive boundaries and he had already reached 14 from 18 balls when the players went off for tea.

Day Two - Lunch: Middlesex 252 Hampshire 101-3

Hampshire skipper Sam Northeast took advantage of two narrow escapes to guide his side to 101-3 at lunch on the second morning of their Bob Willis Trophy clash against Middlesex at Radlett.

Northeast survived an early edge off Tom Helm that flew just wide of the close fielders and also offered a difficult chance at 14 when he slashed Martin Andersson to second slip, but Nathan Sowter was unable to hang on.

Sowter later spilled a more straightforward opportunity to remove opener Joe Weatherley, with James Harris the unlucky bowler on that occasion.

By then, Weatherly (36*) had settled into his groove, sharing an unbroken fourth-wicket stand of 73 with the skipper (28*) as Hampshire made inroads on their opponents’ total of 252.

The visitors initially struggled with the pace and bounce generated by Helm, who struck in the third over of the morning with just one run added to the overnight score of 27-2.

Left-hander Tom Alsop (4) was the man to depart, with wicketkeeper John Simpson leaping high to pull off an excellent catch.

But that turned out to be Middlesex’s sole success of the morning as Weatherley gradually emerged from his shell to play some shots – becoming the first Hampshire batsman to pass 30 so far this season.

Day One - Close of Play: Middlesex 252 all out & Hampshire 27-2

Ryan Stevenson and Martin Andersson recorded career bests for their respective sides as Middlesex and Hampshire fought out an absorbing first day of their Bob Willis Trophy encounter at Radlett.

Devon-born seamer Stevenson, recalled for only his sixth first-class game, took 4-71, doubling his first-class wicket tally in the process, but Andersson, a man with just eight first-class matches behind him hit 92 to take the hosts to 252 all out.

Liam Dawson (2-39), Keith Barker (2-44) and James Fuller (2-54) were also among the wickets, seemingly justifying Sam Northeast’s decision to bowl first, but James Harris took two wickets to leave the visitors 27-2 in reply after a seesaw day of action.

Northeast’s decision to field raised eyebrows given their hosts opted for two spinners on a pitch expected to turn late in the match.

However, in humid conditions and thanks to some early seam movement, it didn’t take the visitors’ attack long to reward their captain’s faith.

In just the third over Keith Barker (2-44) bowled Sam Robson for a duck with a beauty which clipped the top of off-stump.

Nick Gubbins, fresh from his hundred in the win over Surrey also didn’t stay long. The left-hander got away with one top edge hook over the slips, only to play the shot again in the same over and hole out to Felix Organ at fine leg, so giving Fuller a wicket against his former county.

And when the Stevenson got in on the act for the first time, trapping home skipper Stevie Eskinazi for 18, Middlesex were struggling at 41-3.

That was Andersson’s cue to enter the fray and he played positively from the off, steadying the ship in the company of opener Max Holden either side of the lunch interval.

Holden was dropped at slip by Ian Holland off the luckless Barker early in the afternoon, but the drop wasn’t costly as the same combination accounted for the left-hander for 36 shortly afterwards – a wonderful catch taken just millimetres from the turf to end a stand of 44.

Andersson was given his one life on 23 when Dawson spilt a difficult chance at slip and he went on to make the most of his reprieve, reaching 50 from 71 balls with eight fours.

He found a staunch ally in wicketkeeper John Simpson, who after a sticky start hit Barker for three successive fours.

Dawson dropped Simpson on 26, but like Holland earlier atoned soon afterwards to give Stevenson a second wicket and end a stand of 93 for the fifth wicket.

Dawson, back from England ODI duty then struck with the ball having James Harris taken at slip off the last ball before tea.

Six more boundaries took Anderson past his previous best of 83 against Lancashire at Old Trafford last September and to within touching distance of a maiden first-class hundred, but he came up eight short when Fuller trapped him LBW.

Tom Helm and Nathan Sowter added useful runs for the eighth wicket before Stevenson returned to dismiss the latter and Thilan Walallawita off successive balls to cap his excellent day.

Helm (31) ensured a second batting point by striking Dawson for a towering straight six, but Dawson had him caught and bowled later in the same over.

With 14 overs left to bat, Hampshire looked set to get to the close unscathed before Harris found the edge of Organ’s bat and Sowter took a sharp catch at second slip.

Barker was sent in as night-watchman, but that plan backfired when Harris struck a second time with one that splayed the stumps, leaving the match intriguingly poised ahead of day two.

Day 1 Tea: Middlesex 191/6

Martin Andersson’s career-best 84 not out helped Middlesex battle to 191-6 against visitors Hampshire on the first afternoon of their Bob Willis Trophy encounter at Radlett.

Andersson struck 12 4s in eclipsing his previous best of 83 set in his second first-class game against Lancashire at Old Trafford last September. The all-rounder shared a stand of 93 for the fifth-wicket with wicketkeeper John Simpson as the hosts fought back from 41-3 after being put in by Hampshire skipper Sam North-east.

Hampshire were left to rue dropping the young all-rounder on 23, a sharp chance to Liam Dawson at slip off the bowling of Keith Barker. And the England spinner was the guilty party again when he grassed a nick from Simpson when the Middlesex man had made 26.

But Keith Barker (2-44) and Ryan Stevenson (2-47) meant it was honours even at the tea interval.

Barker gave the visitors the perfect start, bowling Sam Robson for a duck with a beauty which clipped the top of off-stump in just the third over of the day.

Robson’s demise brought in Nick Gubbins fresh from his century in last week’s win over London rivals Surrey. However, the left-hander wasn’t to entertain us for long. He was fortunate to get away with one hook shot which flew over the slips but didn’t heed the lesson and skied another short one in the same over down the throat of Felix Organ at square leg to give James Fuller a wicket against his former county.

And when skipper Stevie Eskinazi was trapped LBW by Ryan Stevenson, the hosts were struggling at 41-3.

In a strange statistical quirk, it meant Eskinazi had been dismissed on 18 in all three innings in the Bob Willis Trophy to date.

Max Holden, who survived two huge shouts for caught behind, and Andersson steadied matters either side of lunch, though the former was dropped at third slip by Ian Holland when he’d made 35.

Barker’s frustration was audible, but the drop didn’t prove costly as in the former Warwickshire man’s next over, he again found the edge of the left-hander’s bat and Holland atoned with a blinding catch, holding the ball just inches from the floor.

Andersson though continued to play positively. hitting the shot of the day courtesy of a glorious cover drive en route to his 50 reached in 71 balls with eight fours.

Simpson by contrast began stickily before hitting three fours from one Barker over as he finally found his timing. However, he wasn’t able to make the most of the life offered him by Dawson, edging Stevenson to Organ at slip just three runs later.

And one brought two as Dawson had James Harris taken at slip from the last ball before tea.

Toss: Hampshire won the toss and elected to field.

HAMPSHIRE’s seamers justified skipper Sam North-East’s decision to bowl first as they reduced Middlesex to 76-3 on the first morning of their Bob Willis Trophy encounter at Radlett.

North-East’s decision raised eyebrows at a ground which traditionally turns and is difficult to bat on last, but in humid conditions and on a pitch offering seam movement, Keith Barker, James Fuller and the recalled Ryan Stevenson picked up a wicket apiece.

Max Holden, who survived two huge appeals for caught behind, surveyed the clatter of wickets from the other end to be 29 not out at the interval, while Martin Andersson is unbeaten on 17.

Barker had already beaten Sam Robson when he produced a beauty in his second over to clip the top of the former England opener’s off-stump and bowl him for a duck.

That brought Nick Gubbins to the crease fresh from his hundred against Surrey in round one of the competition last week. However, the left-hander didn’t last long, top edging one hook over the slips before holing out to Felix Organ at fine leg in the same over, giving Fuller a wicket against his former county.

Home skipper Stevie Eskinazi played nicely until Stevenson trapped him in front, leaving the Seaxes 41-3, before Holden and Andersson steadied matters.

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