Middlesex are too strong - again
Middlesex again proved the Netherlands’ nemesis at Westvliet in Voorburg on Monday, as a disappointing Dutch side were unable to maintain the momentum created by their two wins in England on the previous weekend and suffered an eight-wicket defeat.
Once again it was Ireland’s Paul Stirling who did much of the damage, but somewhat unexpectedly it was primarily with the ball. As he had in Amstelveen during the World Cricket League Division I tournament two years ago, Stirling claimed four wickets with his apparently innocuous off-breaks: remarkably, of his 24 wickets in List A matches, ten have been taken against the Dutch.
Thanks to half-century partnerships between Stephan Myburgh and Michael Swart, and then between Myburgh and Cameron Borgas, the Orange Lions had reached 113 for one when Stirling came on to bowl the 23rd over, and a total of 240 or so seemed to be on the cards.
But by the time he had completed his six-over spell they had slumped to 162 for six with just seven overs to go, and that total included a magnificent straight six by Mudassar Bukhari off Stirling’s final delivery.
Stirling started the rot with his third ball, when Borgas was brilliantly caught by Tom Smith on the long off boundary, and in his next over he removed Myburgh, who had reached 66 with another fine display of controlled aggression.
The Dutch opener had extended his run to four half-centuries in his first four CB40 innings – now surely a record for the competition, and possibly for any List A cricket – and brought his aggregate to 272 at an average of 90.67.
But his departure so soon after Borgas’ produced a marked slowing of the tempo, and when Wesley Barresi, Tom Cooper and Tim Gruijters fell in successive overs the Dutch innings was crumbling at 146 for six.
Peter Borren and Bukhari began a steady recovery, which was cut short by two moments of brilliance from Gareth Berg, who had earlier been instrumental in running out Swart and who twice pounced on the ball off his own bowling to run out first Borren and then Bukhari with direct hits.
Bukhari had played another of his quick-fire cameos, which he is producing with ever-greater regularity against the counties, smacking 39 from 30 deliveries with three fours and two sixes. It enabled the Dutch to get past 200, but the eventual total of 212 for nine was a long way short of what had once seemed likely, and a good deal less than they probably needed on a pitch which was reasonably favourable for batting.
Of the Middlesex bowlers, only Steven Crook had generated some variable bounce bowling from the Pavilion End, and he claimed two for 54 alongside Stirling’s four for 27. But it was the other spinners, left-armer Tom Smith and off-spinner Ollie Rayner, who helped the Panthers turn the screw in the middle phase of the innings and put real pressure on the Dutch batsmen.
It was the sort of pressure the Dutch attack would need to create if they were to defend their modest total, and they got off to a great start when Timm van der Gugten struck in the first over, clipping Dawid Malan’s off stump with the first ball he received.
Stirling joined Joe Denly at the crease, and immediately set about the bowling in characteristic fashion. His 28 took just 25 deliveries, but then he was well caught by Gruijters at long on in Swart’s first over, and Middlesex were 47 for two.
That was to be the Orange Lions’ last success, however, as Denly, who had taken a little time to settle but was now batting with increasing confidence, and Chris Rogers put on 166 for the third wicket to see their side home with 16 balls to spare.
It was a thoroughly convincing performance, in which the batsmen paced their innings perfectly. Borren and Swart checked the momentum for a few overs, but even when the boundaries were few and far between a steady flow of singles and twos ensured that the rate never reached seriously challenging proportions.
Rogers ticked along at a run a ball throughout his knock while Denly, whose half-century came up off 78 balls in the 23rd over, accelerated thereafter, his remaining 43 taking just 39 deliveries.
He thoroughly deserved a century, but the winning boundary by Rogers left him stranded on 96 not out, including six fours. Rogers hit as many in his unbeaten 83, which came from 81 balls.
Pieter Seelaar was the most economical of the Dutch bowlers, his eight overs costing just 34 runs, but while Borren tried eight bowlers in an attempt to secure the breakthrough, no-one was able to interrupt the Middlesex batsmen’s steady progress towards the win.