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Recent Match Report – Middlesex vs Surrey South Group 2021

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Surrey 175 for 5 (Pope 52*, Jacks 47) beat Middlesex 174 for 7 (Eskinazi 64, Mitchell 58, Atkinson 4-36) by five wickets

Surrey took the London derby with an over to spare at the Kia Oval as Ollie Pope cast aside his England Test tribulations with a composed unbeaten half-century reminiscent of the time when he burst on to the county scene as a T20 breakout player.

“I’ve had two years of just hitting a red ball so it was good fun,” Pope said. “I had my first hit of a white ball yesterday and it felt strange hitting balls wide outside off stump.” He finished unbeaten on 52 from 35 balls, an excellent T20 player who hardly ever gets to play it because of the domination of a never-ending England programme and the perception that he is most needed (not necessarily most proficient) in the longer format.

But Middlesex, bottom of their section in both Championship and T20 formats, with only two wins in 15 games in both competitions, pushed Surrey close as their captain, Steve Finn, pinned all his faith on a slow and sticky turner in a quartet of spin bowlers with the unheard-of legspin of Nick Gubbins the unlikeliest figurehead.

Finn turned to Gubbins with Surrey 73 for 0 from seven overs, looking well in control of a further requirement of 112 at 7.85 runs an over. “He has been on my radar and he has been in my ear,” Finn said. Gubbins’ T20 career record – a solitary over for eight runs – underlined that it was a punt in desperate circumstances, but it almost paid off.

Gubbins began as a partnership breaker and ended with a completed allocation of 1 for 22. His bowling action is made for an Andrex commercial. He squats slightly at the start of his run, right arm in front of his eyes as if shielding himself from a low sun and left arm reaching out as if blindly searching for the toilet roll holder.

On nights like this, Will Jacks’ straight hitting feels so pure that he does not just time a ball, he rinses it clean, leaving no need for ball sanitisation breaks. He had 47 from 24 balls when Gubbins fooled him with a filthy long hop which he pulled to deep midwicket. Gubbins kept hitting the pitch and Surrey continued to founder. Spin was bowled between the 5th and 19th over.

So heartened, Finn called up two further legspinners in Nathan Sowter, a key component in his attack, and the teenager Luke Hollman. Sowter claimed Jamie Smith and Jordan Clark to catches at long-off by Hollman, the second diving forward. Hollman had Laurie Evans stumped, on the charge, and bowled Rory Burns, who was of a mind to reverse sweep everything and, having signalled his obsession, soon missed a flatter one with all stumps showing.

With 57 still needed from four overs. Middlesex could sense a second win of the season. But Jamie Overton and Pope then clambered into Hollman’s last over which went for 22. Overton came from Somerset with a desire to bat No. 7, making light of a CV which showed he had not reached 50 in more than a hundred List A and T20 matches. He still lacks that half-century but he included three muscular sixes in his unbeaten 22 from 10 balls and will feel entirely vindicated.

Chris Green is a sought-after T20 specialist, but he has not been able to rally Middlesex. In the final over of his county stay, he again hunted the area wide of off stump, but bowled two wides and would have bowled two more if Pope had not been so eager to explore his new freedom that he stretched himself to breaking point to make contact.

Finally, Finn returned to seam, in the shape of Tom Helm, with 19 needed off two, but Overton bullied his first ball over long-on and that essentially was the game. Pope, dropped on 40 at mid off, hastened to his half-century.

As Middlesex’s opener Stevie Eskinazi had said after his unbeaten century against Essex the previous night, they are not playing bad cricket, but it’s losing cricket all the same.
With that sort of record, the last thing they needed was the imposing frame of Kyle Jamieson, the New Zealand pace bowler at the top of his mark, on Surrey debut. Jamieson was the stand-out quick in the World Test Championship final, a match characterised by quality fast bowling. On these pages, he was presented as close to fast-bowling perfection. Where was a journeyman dibbly-dobbly when they needed one?

Jamieson started with a leg-side wide. Perhaps he was still disorientated after New Zealand’s celebrations? His second hit a perfect area and was edged by Joe Cracknell and dropped just short of the wicketkeeper, Jamie Smith. Not hungover after all then. Eskinazi, brimful of confidence, insisted it was a contest by plastering his final ball over midwicket for six. (Considering some plasterers quote £160 an hour that’s quite an accolade.)

What Middlesex might not have factored in was the impact of Jacks, a fill-in offspinner, who provided an early indication that spin would dominate the night. After two overs, he had removed both openers and found surprising turn. Cracknell, a dangerous hitter, appears to be heavily leg side, even for T20, and his attempted slog-sweep was toed gently to the wicketkeeper. Two balls later, Gubbins failed to make enough room to drive Jacks over mid-off and holed out.

With Green at No. 7, and no sense of threat in the lower orders, Middlesex felt a batter light, so the 106-run stand in 72 balls between Eskinazi and Daryl Mitchell was desperately needed. The Powerplay only yielded 40 for 2, but they moved at 10 an over from there without any sense of desperation.

Mitchell and Eskinazi reached their half-centuries in the same over, the 13th, as if locked together, Mitchell lifting Dan Moriarty’s slow left-arm down the ground for six, Eskinazi deliberately chipping short of long-on for a couple – capturing a stand that never became hot-headed.

Jamieson took his final over off, perhaps out of recognition to those late-night Ageas Bowl celebrations. But when their partnership was broken, Middlesex’s innings faltered and Gus Atkinson bathed in late wickets to take a career-best 4 for 36.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

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