August 7, 2013

County cricket

Went to buy a drink and missed three wickets

Jack Mendel
Jade Dernbach removed Adam Rossington during Middlesex's collapse, Middlesex v Surrey, FLt20, North Group, Lord's, July 25, 2013
A horrid collapse against Surrey hurt Middlesex badly in the FLt20  © Getty Images
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Thoughts of frustration and elation have been sent in equal measure in the direction of St Johns Wood in recent weeks. We have crashed out of the FLt20 in dramatic style, but in the Championship, our heads are kept above water. If this season is teaching us anything, it is that in order to succeed you need to stay focused right until the end.

At the beginning of the year, it was stressed that T20 was the focal point for the fans, and upon reflection, it was a success in a sense. We missed out by a single point, so it was close. It was noticeably well organised and advertised, with the tube littered with posters and reasonable prices that gave Lord's full houses on warm dry summer evenings. For the majority of the campaign, it was entertaining and a fairly slick operation.

Versus Surrey, we went into the game on 11 points in joint second; with the top two join sides on 12. Chasing 179 to win, we collapsed like a baby giraffe, stumbling to 25 for 4 by the fourth over, to 77 for 7 by the 10th over. It was like a horror show on the part of the batsmen. At one point I went to buy a drink, and missed three wickets in one and a half overs. It really was extremely disappointing, even though Surrey fielded and bowled exceptionally well.

The crammed Lord's midweek crowd of well over 25,000 spectators let off a collective groan, as finals day looked once more as if it would not contain the Panthers, because to qualify after the loss to Surrey, we would need to win versus Hampshire, the reigning champions, and need Surrey to win also. It wasn't meant to be however as Hampshire defeated us, despite Surrey winning.

Back to reality and away from the world of T20, let's dust ourselves down, and refocus on the Championship. There may not be thousands of people queuing round the block or mascot races, but, it is still the trophy that matters the most. It is what defines a season.

In a low scoring thriller against Durham, the drama of the Championship was perhaps tinged with a T20 hangover. The highest score of the game was 171, and 15 wickets fell on the first day. Despite the carnage, Middlesex managed to come out on top within three days, even in the face of a Graham Onions' onslaught of 7 for 62. In doing so we moved to third in the table with a game in hand on the second, a position few can complain about.

Then again, this is it is not a time to sit back and reflect upon how good our position is. We are doing well, but if there is a serious title challenge afoot, there is still a lot to do. Sitting in third, four points behind Sussex in second, although 14 points behind Yorkshire at the top.

In fact, bearing in mind our remaining five fixtures are against the current bottom four sides (Derbyshire, Somerset, Surrey and Nottinghamshire) and the top side (Yorkshire), then there will be exceptionally good chance, If all goes to plan, which of course is entirely unpredictable and easier said than done.

The bottom four sides have won four Championship games all season combined, compared to Middlesex who have won five. We are odds on favourites as long as the weather does not interfere too much, so ideally the aim would be to get to the last two games of the season with title contention as a distinct possibility, which means three or four strong wins, and maximising of batting and bowling points of course.

If, and that is a big if, we can win can win at least four out of the remaining five, there is no reason why we cannot still challenge for the title. Having Eoin Morgan, Steven Finn and Chris Rogers available in patches will be decisive, and will add a touch of International quality hopefully.

We are not at the last hurdle yet as there are five games to play, but in this position we really should be aiming for at least top two, if not the very top spot by the last few games of the season. We must not commit the same mistake as the one we did in the FLt20, of getting into a strong position only to throw it away.

Jack Mendel writes about cricket on the Sideline Agenda and runs his own blog, Stumpycricket. He tweets here

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Mendel
Jack Mendel writes on SportOnTap.com. After many years of despair following Middlesex, and hoping for the day he will miraculously become good at cricket and play for them, he has given up hope and instead resorted to writing. @jackmendel4

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