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IRELAND v MIDDLESEX 1997
At the 27th attempt Ireland beat a first class County in a competitive match. It was a wonderful result coming only 17 days after the disappointing defeat by Scotland in Malaysia.
Ireland won well and outplayed the county team. The match extended into two days due to rain but by the end of day one Ireland had scored 281 for four and Middlesex were 134 for six. They needed another 148 in 17.4 overs.
Hansie Cronje joined the Irish team as an unqualified player. He was the current South African captain, 27 years of age and a very nice man who fitted into the team perfectly. He was sponsored by Tony O'Reilly through Independent Newspapers. The sponsor paid his fee of £20,000 with Irish Cricket Union picking up all other expenses for Cronje and his wife. To this point Cronje had played 36 Tests, averaged 35.92 with five centuries and taken 17 wickets. Doak was unable to play for Ireland (work) and M Patterson had signed for Surrey. Harrison and Graham had retired. McCallan came into the team. He had been in Malaysia but had not played. The other 10 had all been in the Malaysian team.
Benson was in his 50th match and captained the team to a magnificent win. Harrison retired with a magnificent record. Since 1983 he had played a record 118 matches, scored 2765 runs at 26.08 and taken 140 wickets at 33.67. Middlesex arrived with four Test players, Gatting (now a Selector), Ramprakash, Fraser and Tufnell and two inexperienced quick bowlers, Cook and Hewitt.
The start was delayed by one hour on a cold, wet, windy day - a day requiring ebony bails. Ireland were sent in. Curry whacked two fours in the first two overs. In the fourth he hit Cook for four and a straight six and then had to come off for five minutes for rain. After another over there was a further 30 minute delay. In Cook's next over Curry hit another straight six and McCallan struck two fours. In eight overs the score was 43. After 10 overs it was 52 and Curry took 10 off Cook's 6th over. The next over, Fraser's 7th was eventful. Curry hit a three to take him to 50 out of 67 off 50 balls. McCallan hit a four and got out. He pushed strongly forward at Fraser and was caught at the wicket. 72-1 in the 13th over.
Lewis kept the board moving and tried to give Curry the strike. Hewitt and Weekes (off spin) came on to bowl. The score was 76 after 15 overs when the "ring" fielders could be reduced to four. Curry went his merry way. He hit three more fours, saw 100 up in over 20 and was out for 75 in over 25. He chopped Weekes into his stumps at 117. He faced 93 balls and hit two sixes and nine fours in what was, by far, his best and highest innings for Ireland.
Cronje arrived on a perfect platform but must have been very close to being lbw to the first ball he received - from Hewitt. He survived and began to score freely in singles and twos. 150 came in over 33. Tufnell (slow left arm) and Dutch (off spin) were tried and the former deceived and bowled Lewis in the 36th over. 165-3. Lewis went back when he might have done better playing forward. 48 came in 11 overs. With Benson in the pace increased. After 40 overs 189 was up. Nine (including a six to Cronje) came in over 41 by Dutch and 10 off Cook's next over, this bringing up 200 in 42 overs and Cronje's 50 off 50 balls. Another 10 came off Cook's ninth and last over (they cost 71 runs). Hewitt returned and dismissed Benson, 20 off 26 balls. After a stand with Cronje of 69 off 59 balls in 39 minutes, Benson was bowled swinging with no foot movement.
With AD Patterson joining Cronje four overs remained. 47 runs were scored. Eight came from the 47th over by Weekes, 13 (including a six to Cronje) off a Hewitt over, 12 off Weekes's next over with a Patterson six. Tufnell bowled the last over. Cronje hit a six off the last ball and 14 in all came from the over. Ireland's 281 for four was Ireland's best in a one day match -v- a County beating 228 -v- Yorkshire in the 1995 Nat West match at Headingley. Cronje finished 94 not out off 82 balls with three sixes and five fours. He batted 93 minutes and scored 54 in the last 10 overs. It was a magnificent performance. Patterson's 24 in 15 balls was also a most valuable contribution to the final push for runs.
The Middlesex bowling figures were a sorry sight. Only Fraser, with one for 34 in 10 overs, was under five runs per over and Cook was at a rate of eight per over. After lunch, at 4.38 p.m., Weekes and Wellings began quite briskly against Gillespie and McCrum. The former bowled six overs for 22, McCrum six overs for 21. 46 was up in those 12 overs. Then Heasley came on. Weekes hit a skier to wide long on which was safely caught by Gillespie. 46-1.
Cronje replaced McCrum and in his third over Wellings was lbw. 69-2. Gatting joined Ramprakash and in 37 balls added 35 runs. Ramprakash hit Cronje for two fours and Heasley for a six. Gatting's first four brought up 100 but Ramprakash was lbw to Cronje in the same over. 104-3. Pooley joined his captain. Cronje came off after seven overs for 33 runs and two wickets. In a surprise move Benson replaced him for the 28th over. Benson had not bowled at all in Malaysia. It worked! Gatting chipped one of Benson's slow "dobbers" back to him in his second over. 126-4. In Benson's next over Pooley played on. 133-5. Molins was now bowling at the sea end. In the next over Dutch charged him and was stumped. 134-6. It was now 6.50 p.m. and before Hewitt could get to the wicket rain brought an end to the day's play with Brown two not out.
The slow pitch and gloom had militated against Middlesex. The second day was much brighter. Brown and Hewitt resumed and Benson and Molins bowled the first eight overs. Only two fours were hit but 41 runs were put on. Then Hewitt whipped Benson high to the mid wicket boundary where Dunlop took a very good high running catch. 175-7. Brown fell to Molins in the next over. It was Molins's 10th and last over for 44 runs. Brown drove to deep long-on. Gillespie ran in, dived to his right and caught the ball low and two handed - a very brilliant effort. 180-8.
Fraser and Tufnell were now together. Gillespie replaced Molins. Off him Dunlop knocked up a Fraser drive at mid-off but could not hold on. 200 was up in over 44 in which Fraser hit Benson for a six. 14 came in Gillespie's next over including another six to Fraser. Cronje returned for Benson (three for 45 in nine overs) and sent Tufnell's off stump cartwheeling. 227-9. 47 had come in seven overs. Heasley came on for Gillespie for the 47th over. Cook hit his second ball high to Gillespie at long-on. This previously infallible fielder dropped it and it went over the line for six. No matter, two balls later Heasley bowled Cook and a famous victory was achieved just before noon.
Four bowlers shared the 10 wickets, Benson and Cronje taking three each. Curry was given the £250 Man-of-the-Match Award but Cronje won the match for Ireland. Middlesex were gracious in defeat.
TV cameras abounded, from Sky, UTV and RTE. Numerous people were interviewed. The crowd, a small one, were overjoyed. President, John Wright, produced champagne for the victors.