Incredible late drama ensued at the Cloudfm County Ground with Simon Harmer shining for the Division One leaders as they extended their lead at the top...
ESSEX V MIDDLESEX
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 Specsavers County Championship Division One 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.
Just when you think you've seen everything it all, this catch comes along to blow your mind pic.twitter.com/kKSBElClur— County Championship (@CountyChamp) 29 June 2017
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.
HAMPSHIRE V SOMERSET
The Somerset tail saved their side from defeat in a last session thriller in the Specsavers County Championship as Hampshire ran out of time two wickets shy of victory.
The Division One strugglers had collapsed to 79 for six, despite Steven Davies’ 47-run attempt at a chase but were bailed out by the less experienced batsmen.
Hampshire had declared on 95 for five during the rain break to set up the thrilling, topsy-turvy, finale as they set Somerset 131 to win in 31 overs.
And captain George Bailey’s decision appeared to be impeccably judged as Gareth Berg took two wickets in an over.
The fast bowler was helped by a stunning diving catch by James Vince in the covers to get rid of Marcus Trescothick.
But three balls later it was all his own skill as he kissed the edge of Adam Hose’s bat to offer a caught behind for Lewis McManus.
The new pink ball appeared difficult to play as with swung and seam, with play and misses a regular sight. James Hildreth was the next to depart as Kyle Abbott finally got his first wicket of the match with a well-produced full delivery.
But wickets continued to fall around him as Eddie Byrom stuck around for a 28-ball 15 before Ian Holland bowled him – the medium pace bowler’s fifth wicket of the match. Tom Abell followed in the next over as he attempted to play a reverse sweep, but only looped up to Rilee Rossouw at first slip.
Steven Davies had been elevated up the order to open in the hope of quick runs and he provided with 47 from 40 balls. But he played one shot too many to drive Holland on the up to Bailey in the covers. Tim Groenewald and Lewis Gregory blocked out 7.5 overs before the latter was lbw to Berg leaving an in ducker.
Then Groenewald edged Abbott behind with seven ball to spare but Josh Davey and Craig Overton survived with the nerves jangling. The draw leaves Hampshire level on points with Yorkshire, but are above them in third due to their win at Headingley earlier in the season, while Somerset remain second from bottom and in deep relegation trouble.
Earlier, the afternoon session had progressed the game nicely with the remaining Somerset wickets of Davey and Jack Leach falling in 37 balls. Hampshire, who boasted a 64-run first innings lead, then proceeded to lose two wickets of their own.
Openers Jimmy Adams and Dawson falling before the tea interval – the former run out from point, with the England international clean bowled by Groenewald. Vince and Rossouw put on 33 in quick time – with the pair finding the boundary more comfortably than anyone else in the match.
But Gregory had the South African edging to first slip Hildreth – who spectacularly caught low to his right.
Then Vince, caught behind cutting, and Bailey, foolishly run out in a mix up with Sean Ervine, fell in consecutive balls. But as the rain fell, Hampshire elected to declare for the second time in the match but they could not force a positive result with the game eventually ended at 9:35pm.
Hampshire captain George Bailey: “I was proud of the way the boys fought that out. I had my heart in by mouth when they started to get a bit of a partnership three wickets down, but we had seen all game it was so difficult to score on especially when the ball got old.
“We knew Somerset would be keen to try for a win with the table how it is. We would have liked a few more runs and a few more overs and married the two up but both teams played a good game of cricket," he added.