Derbyshire regain identity to spark survival bid
Derbyshire 385 (Madsen 138*) and 160 (Johnson 59, Rayner 5-67) beat Middlesex 249 (Voges 69) and 240 (Berg 71, Footitt 4-65) by 56 runs
A thrilling final day at the Racecourse ended with Derbyshire securing a second successive win of the season to take them out of the relegation zone and dent the hopes of yet another title challenger. After excelling at Hove, an unchanged XI followed three days of disciplined cricket with a dogged fourth to bowl out Middlesex for 240, as fans left wide-eyed wondering if they were now Championship contenders by proxy.
A combination of relentlessly tight bowling and some smart field-placing from Derbyshire skipper Wayne Madsen saw them overcome any jitters to give them a fighting chance of survival. Few expected them to be in control of their destiny, but head coach Karl Krikken, cock-a-hoop at the finale, could not have looked prouder, as he shook hands with supporters, celebratory beer in hand.
He spent the start of the day patrolling the boundary, resembling a football manager, pacing around their technical area. He even had the lingo - describing the upcoming encounters with fellow relegation candidates Somerset and Surrey as "48-pointers".
At one point he even stepped onto the field to pass on a message to Matt Higginbottom at fine leg, while seemingly gesticulating for a 90th minute penalty. "I'm just really pushing and prodding from the side," he said, smiling. .
"We've got a very good captain and a good young side so it's just about trying to get your ideas on the field. You just walk round and say, 'Why are you bowling with one slip and two drive-men when most of the catches have been dropped at second slip?' I can't just sit and watch, I need to get out there and get my hands dirty."
A combination of early season sheepishness and five lost tosses in seamer-friendly conditions resulted in four defeats, most notably when these teams met earlier in the season at Lord's; Krikken noting that some of the players seemed overawed by the surroundings, particularly those who had never played there before.
But a return to the core values that got them promoted has helped them regain their identity and thrive under their underdogs tag. In isolation, their victories against Sussex and Middlesex were about as perfect as first-class wins go. Their application on the field today spoke volumes.
Tim Groenewald showed no signs of the ankle complaint that saw him leave the field last night, returning to the attack at the City End, for the fifth over of the day. And it was he, Derbyshire's leading wicket-taker, who began the morning procession with a ball that seamed in to hit Sam Robson's off stump.
Eoin Morgan looked horribly out of touch and, following a trio of uppish shots just out of the reach of fielders, played on for just 9 when Mark Footitt tempted him with a wide one. A darling of the England side, his run of only three half centuries in 52 innings is embarrassing for a man of his talents. Middlesex fans have voiced concerns over his priorities, and this failure when they needed him most will only rile them further.
Two balls later, Neil Dexter was following him back as Footitt speared a full, swinging delivery into middle and off stump to leave the visiting captain powerless.
Peter Burgoyne then put the gloss on a fantastic session for Derbyshire with the important wickets of Adam Voges - caught brilliantly by a diving Chesney Hughes at slip - and John Simpson, who failed to stop himself going through with a square shot through the off-side - ball stopping in the pitch, meaning he could only guide it to the grateful hands of Madsen at short cover. The dismissal signalled the end of the morning session, with Simpson unmoved, rueful and shell-shocked.
Gareth Berg and Ollie Rayner put their top order to shame - Adam Voges aside - with an eighth-wicket stand of 85 off 113 balls that made Derbyshire fret for the first time in this match.
Berg's season's best of 71 contained some lovely wrist-work, as he guided balls outside of off stump expertly through the mid-on and midwicket for boundaries. Rayner's scoring areas were more orthodox, but just as valuable, as they reduced the arrears to double figures. But when Berg failed to get enough bat on a ball he wanted to guide to third man, instead finding the cupped hands of Hughes at a wide third slip, relief swept around the ground.
Toby Roland-Jones was adjudged strangled down the leg side - a harsh call agreed the Derbyshire players after the game - to give Footitt his fourth wicket of the match, before Burgoyne brought Tim Murtagh forward and turned the ball into his outside edge to give Hughes his third catch of the innings to seal a momentous victory.
For Middlesex, defeat is compounded by an ominously easy Yorkshire win over Nottinghamshire inside three days. Even taking into account Yorkshire's 10-wicket triumph at Lord's earlier this summer, the gulf between the two has never seemed wider. Even if Middlesex managed to stay within touching distance of their title rivals in the next three games, they will need to find something special - something they've not shown so far - to triumph at Headingley in their last game of the season.
Chris Rogers is set to return against Somerset next week - almost certainly retaking the four-day captaincy from Dexter - with overseas stand-in Adam Voges finishing his stint with the county on 383 runs at 54.71.
But that's just replacing one form batsman with another - one who will be fatigued by the rigours of five Ashes Tests. Both Rogers and Sam Robson carried Middlesex at the beginning of the season, and now it's time for others to share the burden. If not, they may find their title challenge has run its course.