Middlesex are showing more character than consistency this season. Twice they have floundered in their first innings and twice they have performed like a team with real depth of batting in the second. The batsmen saved the game against Essex last weekend; here yesterday they went one better and took Middlesex to a splendid win against Sussex.
The contest was always tight, but when Middlesex were 285 for 5, chasing 328, they seemed the likeliest to succeed. However, the new ball was due and Sussex's James Kirtley is one of the best native practitioners. He had been Sussex's most forbidding bowler in Middlesex's second innings, getting lbw decisions against Andrew Strauss, when the Middlesex captain was 83 and accelerating smoothly, and Abdul Razzaq when he was on 11 and Middlesex on 250. Kirtley, always on the outskirts of the England one-day team, was getting movement off the seam.
The first ball of his second over with the new ball forced Paul Weekes back on to his stumps and earned his third lbw from Vanburn Holder. It was an important wicket. Weekes had nudged and fudged and managed three fours on his way to 33 in a stand of 60 with Ed Joyce, outscoring the No 5 batsman.
But Sussex should have known what was coming. Weekes averaged 49.27 with the bat last season (and 61.11 with the ball.) His replacement was Ben Hutton, who averaged 32.00 last season. Then with the last ball of that second over Kirtley was given another lbw, against Joyce, who had batted one minute short of three hours for 49.
Joyce is an abundant occupier of the crease; his 117 which helped save Middlesex's game against Essex took no fewer than 394 minutes. His talent and temperament are impressive, and the Middlesex coach, John Emburey, thinks it is unjust that Joyce has to spend four years qualifying for England because he was born in Dublin, whereas a player born in Belfast qualifies automatically. Evidently, Emburey knows more about spin bowling than Irish history.
Despite that success against Joyce, Kirtley was losing his edge. Nine extras came off his bowling, and when third man was brought into the slips he conceded a four. But the clincher was the 16th over with the new ball when he must have been tiring. Simon Cook made a mockery of form and hit Kirtley for three fours to square leg, straight and to fine leg.
Middlesex were 324 for 7 and it needed only one last, humiliating heave to square leg by Hutton off Kirtley, whose figures were 4 for 87 and did not do him the credit he deserved. Sussex's problem had been Mushtaq Ahmed, who leaked 97 runs and proved more adept at appealing than taking wickets.
The only pity was so few Londoners bothered to attend a gripping day's cricket on a sunny spring day on the new emerald green turf here.
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