Middlesex 162 for 7 v Hampshire
It was always going to be about bonus points. Middlesex, hamstrung by a venue unfit for Championship cricket, have had to graft more in the rain delays than out in the middle. So far, only 59 overs have been possible across three days. In that time, Middlesex have been unable to get far.
They are currently 162 for 7, locked in their own battle for whatever they can muster from a game that has almost certainly put a fork in outground cricket in September. Who knows what it might mean for the defending champion’s Division One status.
It’s hard not to read that sentence and now think it is melodramatic. But the truth of the matter is that even Hampshire, who started the season as runaway leaders before Essex shaped up, were mathematically susceptible to the drop before this round. Now, their two bowling points along with the inevitable points for this draw will be enough. They have been sitting pretty throughout this match. While Middlesex’s players and managing director of cricket Angus Fraser have pitched in with the groundstaff, the Hants players kept warm indoors with a very justified sense of “not our problem”. They are as annoyed as anyone at the lack of cricket this week.
The first order of business for the umpires this morning was to announce an early lunch for 12pm, allowing further checks on the state of the ground throughout the day. Hourly updates on the state of play followed, right until 3pm, when it was decided that a 3.30pm start would work. At that point, Yorkshire, who started this round level on points with Middlesex – just 13 above the relegation zone – had brought up their first batting point. Typically, thirty minutes later, it started raining at Uxbridge.
Not for the first time, Middlesex players, accompanied by Fraser, helped out a skeleton groundstaff and covered as much of the ground as they could. Their quick work preserved the areas worst affected by the previous deluges and also ensured play was able to begin at 4.15pm, under bright sunshine. Over in south London, Yorkshire were bowled out 198 short of Surrey’s first innings, and were duly forced to follow on.
Victory over Yorkshire will be the first of two favours Middlesex will ask of their south London rivals this fortnight. While a return to Lord’s next week sees Lancashire as opponents, Surrey host Somerset.
But whatever local cheer the sun brought had dissipated by stumps. Having restarted the innings on 76 for 3, with 28.5 overs remaining, a series of misjudgements led to the fall of four wickets. Of course, Hampshire bowled well for their lot: Adam Voges squared-up expertly by Fidel Edwards and caught at second slip by Jimmy Adams, before Adams took his second when Middlesex debutant Max Holden threw his hands a good delivery from Ian Holland. A change at the Gatting Way End saw Kyle Abbott return to pick up the last two, forcing James Franklin to play on and James Harris to not play at all – bowled and lbw for ducks, respectively.
Then, news filtered through of a fightback from Yorkshire that meant they reached the close of day three on 59 for 1, 139 behind. Meanwhile Somerset were rounding on a victory at Taunton against Lancashire: the visitors 45 ahead with just two wickets remaining.
If Somerset give Essex the title with a win, and Yorkshire hold firm, Middlesex will drop into the relegation places should they leave Uxbridge without a bonus point. Somerset, who watched on in horror as a Championship title was ripped away from them by a manufactured chase at Lord’s in a thrilling finale to the 2016 summer, host Middlesex in the final round of the season. Contrivance, anyone?
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport