Middlesex win big after Mitchell gamble
Middlesex 327 for 7 dec (Denly 134*) and forfeit beat Worcestershire 45 for 2 and 150 (Roland-Jones 3-29) by 132 runs
In his book How I Escaped My Certain Fate, the stand-up comedian Stewart Lee recounts how one of the producers of Jerry Springer: The Opera (which Lee directed) used to ask during script meetings: "Where's the jeopardy?" The question was intended to keep the focus on retaining the audience's interest and it is probably accurate to say that county cricket, from a viewer's perspective, could sometimes benefit from introducing an element of risk.
At Lord's on Sunday, however, Worcestershire embraced the jeopardy rather too readily, enabling Middlesex to pull off a 132-run victory that had not been mapped, let alone signposted, the previous evening. The decision for the visitors to declare overnight and for Middlesex to forfeit their second innings was a positive move that averted a deadening fourth day with little to play for. Both sides should be applauded for their adventure, with the target of 283 from 96 overs offering a chance of all three results; though it soon became apparent that, in overcast conditions, Worcestershire's was the more difficult task. Even so, it was their captain, Daryl Mitchell, who proposed the idea.
"The way the points systems works out I think it's very important to try and win games of cricket," Mitchell said. "We set our stall out in our pre-season meetings that we want to try and win games and we felt that this was an opportunity. I think it was a little bit stacked in their favour, maybe 60-40, but you have to draw five games to get the same amount of points as you do for one win."
After three days interrupted by rain and bad light, it was a good result for the Championship, if not Worcestershire, who know a thing or two about flirting with danger. Last season they lost their opening six games but survived thanks to four wins and a draw. This year, they've already drawn twice and decided the gamble was worth taking.
Worcestershire remains winless after four games but their strategy is clear, even if their batting wasn't up to the challenge of dealing with the Middlesex attack. Chris Rogers, currently standing in as Middlesex's four-day captain, acknowledged that Mitchell's pro-active proposal "was a good one for us".
"We had a think about it," Rogers said. "We still thought maybe we needed another twenty or thirty but in the end we thought if they're getting 280 they're getting 300. We were quite happy with how it came about but we knew it wasn't going to be a pushover."
With England's Steven Finn, mean and menacing from the Pavilion End, and Tim Murtagh ably supported by Gareth Berg and Toby Roland-Jones, Rogers was able to rotate his bowlers without releasing the pressure on a fragile Worcestershire line-up that has only passed 250 in the Championship once this season. Rogers singled out Roland-Jones, who now has 19 wickets at 15, as Middlesex's "best bowler this year" - high praise, given the competition.
Finn and Murtagh bowled unchanged for the first 15 overs of the morning, during which Worcestershire's batsmen played and missed with a regularity the London transport system could well take note of. Air cricket is a staple pastime for most followers of the game but it is less becoming of professionals. Still, Daryl Mitchell and Michael Klinger had made it to the ninth over before Murtagh made the breakthrough, pinning the Australian on the crease.
The previous evening, Worcestershire's Alan Richardson had suggested there was still something in the pitch and Middlesex's bowling proved the old boy right. Line and length were adhered to with dogmatic precision, as Mitchell, Vikram Solanki and Moeen Ali all departed to catches behind the wicket to leave Worcestershire on 35 for 4 after 20 overs and any hopes of a daring run chase in tatters.
There were brief flurries of resistance. James Cameron and Matthew Pardoe swished and cut to add 35 for the fifth wicket at a run a ball, while Richard Jones twice bunted Dawid Malan's legspin into the stands as Middlesex sought to get through a few quick overs to prevent a points deduction. As it was, they lost almost as much time fetching the ball from the boundary, as No. 10 Jones combined with Aneesh Kapil for the biggest partnership of the innings, 54 from 71 balls.
It took Neil Dexter's Superman impression in the gully to dismiss Jones, Worcestershire's top-scorer, for 32 as Finn returned to clean up the tail. Victory lifts Middlesex to third in Division One while Worcestershire lie a point off the bottom, but Mitchell will not be curbing his gambling instinct. "Given my time again I'd probably do exactly the same," he said.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo