Spearman squeezes the life out of Middlesex

Gloucestershire 239-9 Middlesex 223-8
(Gloucs win by 16 runs)

Craig Spearman has developed a liking for Middlesex's bowlers. Only last week the Gloucestershire opener scored the small matter of 341 runs against the county in a championship match at Gloucester. And yesterday, in the quarter finals of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy, he was at it again.

Craig Spearman has developed a liking for Middlesex's bowlers. Only last week the Gloucestershire opener scored the small matter of 341 runs against the county in a championship match at Gloucester. And yesterday, in the quarter finals of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy, he was at it again.

On this occasion the former New Zealand batsman fell 279 short of his record breaking score for Gloucestershire but it was his rapid first-wicket partnership of 118 with Philip Weston which enabled Mark Alleyne's side to ease their way into the semi-finals, where they will be at home to Yorkshire.

The winning margin of 16 runs flatters Middlesex because last years winners of the Trophy controlled this game throughout. Andrew Strauss was lured into fielding first by the green tinge of the pitch but it quickly proved to be the wrong decision. The Middlesex captain should have looked at the ends rather than the middle, which were dry and dusty. This would have told him that this surface was only going to get harder to bat on, especially against the spinners.

Strauss was not helped by his seamers who failed to apply any early pressure. Spearman hits anything over-pitched straight past the bowlers and is quick to pick anything slightly short up over square-leg.

It was Weston's, rather than Spearman's, innings which highlighted the shortcomings of Middlesex's attack. Weston is a far more limited player but he raced to 50 before his partner. The left-hander did not go after the bowling but waited for the bad ball to come along.

Their partnership ended in the 20th over when Middlesex's two spinners started bowling in tandem. Weston top edged Paul Weekes to Ben Hutton at short fine-leg and this dismissal started a collapse which saw the home side lose five wickets for 27 runs in eight overs.

Spearman was run out by Alex Gidman, who then proceeded to chip a difficult chance back to Jamie Dalrymple and Chris Taylor was carelessly run-out and Alleyne weakly chipped one to mid-wicket. But Shoaib Malik and Martyn Ball, through sensible batting, ensured Gloucester reached a competitive total.

Middlesex realised they had to make the most of the new ball, for it was against it that run scoring would be at its easiest. Strauss and Weekes began positively but both fell to excellent catches at first slip by Spearman, the man-of-the-match. Chad Keegan scored a breezy 24 before he top edged a pull shot to the same man, now positioned at deep mid-wicket.

Ed Joyce and Dalrymple gave Middlesex's supporters hope but the required run-rate kept climbing. In these sort of situations there is no better side than Gloucester. Like a python they slowly wrap themselves around their opponents and squeeze the life out of them.

With Middlesex requiring nearly eight runs an over Alleyne came in for the kill. The Gloucestershire captain took three wickets in consecutive overs before some strong hitting by Simon Cook. For Middlesex it was small consolation.

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