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Recent Match Report – Middlesex vs Essex South Group 2021

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Essex come close to messing up chase before Simon Harmer’s four seals narrow win

Essex 184 for 8 (Lawrence 59, Mitchell 3-24) beat Middlesex 183 for 2 (Eskinazi 102*) by two wickets

Stevie Eskinazi’s maiden white-ball hundred for Middlesex was to no avail as Essex pulled off a thrilling last-ball victory by two wickets in a frantic finish at Lord’s. Essex looked virtually home and dry when they needed 15 from 11 balls with eight wickets remaining, but six of those wickets tumbled before Simon Harmer’s leg-side swing, off the first ball he faced, flew off a thick edge over short third for the winning boundary.

The bowler was Daryl Mitchell, a New Zealander on T20 debut for Middlesex – one Kiwi then for whom cricket failed to deliver a happy ending this week. Mitchell could hardly have done any more. His medium pace reaped three wickets in that final over – Paul Walter, who thumped a full toss to long-on; Ryan ten Doeschate, caught at the wicket next ball; and Aron Nijjar who cleared Nathan Sowter at backward point for a boundary and then picked him out next ball.

By such narrow margins, Essex will imagine they have the momentum to transform their season, whereas Middlesex, with one win in six, remain rooted to the bottom of South Group and would have to summon something extraordinary to reach the quarter-finals from here.

Essex’s pursuit of 185 had felt like a last-over mash-up throughout. Dan Lawrence had seen little of the strike while Michael Pepper was making 43 from 32 balls, but he grew into his innings to make 59 from 37. Lawrence’s cocky movement a yard outside his off stump provided a particularly engrossing match-up against the T20 speciaist Chris Green, who likes to bowl across the batsman, wide outside off stump, and who refused to release the ball on one occasion while he studied Lawrence’s walkabout. But it was Tom Helm who removed Lawrence, a fine catch by his knees by Blake Cullen at third man.

At the end, after the final boundary had crossed the line, Eskinazi sunk to his knees in disappointment. His 102 from 61 deserved the satisfaction of victory, but the shortfall had come elsewhere: no other Middlesex batsman could match his scoring rate. Mitchell, attuning himself to new surroundings, had a particularly cautious beginning, briefly inviting fears that he might be about to perform a one-man tribute act to the watchful style of New Zealand’s World Test Championship victory.

Lord’s housed a T20 crowd again and had a match to relish. If the night ended in shrieks of disbelief, most of it had been played out to the recognisable hum that only Lord’s provides, an infinitely polite, largely well-to-do hum, a hum redolent of rounds of Pimms and no down-in-ones unless you were prepared to risk the social ostracism that would surely follow. And on this occasion, amid this hum, Eskinazi’s was the name on everybody’s lips.

Eskinazi’s hundred, one imagines, will have gone down rather well. A group of spectators – towards whom he pointed his bat when he reached his hundred with only two balls to spare – could almost be held to constitute a Fan Club. After the season he has had, he deserved one.

In mid-May, Eskinazi let it be known that he wanted a Championship loan deal. With Covid leaving the counties financially stricken, that loan deal did not materalise. But he had good reason because he had skippered Middlesex for the first two games of the season, but when the Australian, Peter Handscomb, took over the captaincy, he was immediately jettisoned. With only one year left on his contract, his future is wracked with uncertainty.

In white-ball, however, his value is more recognised, even more so after he was the dominant factor in Middlesex reaching 183 for 2.

The final stages of his hundred were not without incident. Ian Gould, one of England’s most experienced umpires, is now retired from international cricket, but he still intervenes if he perceives some foolishness going on. It was unclear whether Eskinazi, or more likely the Essex wicketkeeper Adam Wheater, was the subject of his attention, but his stalking towards the wicket from square leg in the 18th over, with Eskinazi on 92, certainly added to the tension.

A sweep against Harmer immediately took him to 96, but he only gathered two singles in the penultimate over and then lost the strike on the first ball of the last over when he could only sweep a full toss from Sam Cook for a single: 99 now to his name. To have deliberately given him back the strike would have been criminal, and his shake of a head suggested he knew it, but John Simpson’s could only drill the third ball of the over for a single to long-on, and cheers burst out sporadically around Lord’s.

His slog-sweep at the next ball was a horrible miscue, and he could have organised contract negotiations in the time it took to fall, but it dropped between two converging Essex fielders and his hundred was secured. Life, though, for Eskinazi, has rarely been plain sailing and it was not about to deliver the victory to compete his night.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

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