Surrey 190 & 259/2d drew with Middlesex 160 & 250/6
The scramble for points to secure a Division One berth in the final stages of the season produced a remarkable final day in the London derby at The Oval, but late showers ultimately meant that Middlesex and Surrey’s valiant efforts ended in a drawn game.
After preparing for his return to Test cricket by hitting his first County Championship century of the season, Rory Burns’ enterprising declaration set Middlesex 290 to win in 71 overs. It was the sort of target more ordinarily set in September rather than May, but the demands of the new conference system – with the top two teams in each group qualifying for Division One and the chance to be crowned champions – has created greater urgency this season.
Given Middlesex’s abject batting so far this season, Surrey would have fancied their chances of victory. By the time Middlesex had reached 50, Surrey had already snared both openers, with Jack Davies falling to a brilliant catch from Ollie Pope – whose enterprising 37 not out had accelerated Surrey’s declaration – in the gully.
Instead, Middlesex belatedly produced their best batting of the season. Skipper Peter Handscomb has embodied Middlesex’s woes: his first eight innings of the season brought three ducks and just 60 runs. Yet, belatedly, Handscomb located some of the form that has brought him 16 Test caps.
His partner, Nick Gubbins, was even more fluent as he scored a sparkling 124. The two added 172 runs in 33.3 overs, a stand that changed the complexion of the game – and, it appeared, possibly even Middlesex’s season too.
But Middlesex were stymied by two foes. The first was the weather, which took 14 overs off their chase after a couple of delays. The second was Kemar Roach, who dismissed both Handscomb – lashing a cut to Pope at cover – and Gubbins – caught by Burns near the cover boundary attempting a maximum – during an 11-ball spell that brought four wickets. Roach’s 5-86 ended an outstanding stint as Surrey’s overseas player, which included a career best 8-40 against Hampshire.
Yet while Roach’s spell ensured that Middlesex could not convert their best partnership of the season into victory, it came too late for Surrey to win either. Despite the increased worth of a draw, to eight points, this season, both teams craved the 16 points for a win to keep their prospects of reaching Division One alive.
For Middlesex, marooned 49 points behind Somerset, the second-placed side in Group 1, merely avoiding Division Three would be an achievement. For Surrey, who have 24 more points than their London rivals, the last three group games need to be won.
But if Burns felt frustration for his team, he could take solace in individual satisfaction. After six consecutive half-centuries, Burns’ undefeated 104 took his season’s tally to 554 runs at 61.6 apiece. The Test series against New Zealand could be defining for Burns – but he should approach it in great heart.
County Championship round-up
Nottinghamshire continued their revival in first-class cricket by overcoming the showers to defeat Worcestershire by an innings and 170 runs at Trent Bridge. After a run of 30 first-class games without a win, it was Notts’ third consecutive County Championship victory, taking them to the top of Group 1.
Notts took 14 wickets on the final day – first bowling Worcestershire out for 80 and then, after enforcing the follow on, dismissing them for 150 in the second innings. Jake Libby offered the most significant resistance, hitting 64 before being dismissed by Stuart Broad, who continued his fine early season form. Broad took four wickets in the day – two in both innings.
But Notts’ main hero was the popular Luke Fletcher, who followed his first innings haul of 7-37 to take another three second innings wickets, beginning by having opener Daryl Mitchell caught behind. Fletcher ended with match figures of 10-57, while Dane Petersen snared 4-49 in the second innings, to suggest Notts’ bowling attack is robust enough to withstand the loss of Broad.
While rain decimated the round of Championship matches, with every other match ending as a draw, Craig Overton gave further notice of his improvement since his last Test match, two years ago, by taking four wickets as Gloucestershire collapsed to 27-6 against Somerset at Bristol before rain ensured they could escape with a fortuitous draw. The result keeps Gloucestershire at the summit of Group 2 – one point ahead Somerset, and with a game still in hand.
Lancashire – whose game with Northamptonshire was limited to 34.3 overs – and Yorkshire look to have a hold on Group 3, but the other two groups are keenly contested. Indeed, the reigning champions Essex face a scramble to qualify for Division One: their draw with Warwickshire leaves Essex just three points ahead of Durham in second place in Group 1, and having played a game more.