Denly breaks Middlesex horror run
Middlesex 155 for 2 (Denly 98*, Higgins 44*) beat Somerset
Middlesex have been so rotten in the NatWest T20 Blast that Lord's refused to host their latest match. Well, not exactly, but while Middlesex hopped over the Thames to borrow The Oval for this fixture, a supermarket's corporate event was being hosted at HQ.
Brian Lara was the star at Lord's and Middlesex fans may have preferred a peak over the Grace Gates than a trip to the southern wastelands of SE11. Not many did. The crowd numbered few more than a healthy Championship attendance. Understandable given the quality of cricket Middlesex have produced in the shortest format this season, but a change of home ground did the trick and they snapped a run of six consecutive defeats. Comfortably too, chasing 153 with more than two overs to spare.
Middlesex seemed to need Professor Higgins from My Fair Lady to transform their T20 cricket. They found a Higgins, if not a professor: handing a debut to 19-year-old Ryan Higgins, who has been in excellent form for the second XI.
It was evident in the timing and confidence of his strokemaking. He lined up Craig Overton in the final over of the Powerplay for two sixes into the OCS stand and just when Somerset had regained their footing through Max Waller and Craig Meschede, lifted Waller over extra-cover. A flick behind square leg for four in the 17th over put the chase beyond doubt.
But Higgins was the aggressive foil to Joe Denly's thrusting epee. He was a different player to the one who averaged 12.16 from six innings before this knock. He more-than-doubled his season's tally with an unbeaten 98 in 60 balls. He began by lifting Peter Trego into the pavilion and from that found his eye to control the chase.
Two sixes over midwicket in the 14th over brought the requirement down to almost a run-a-ball from the last six overs and when Alfonso Thomas - the master of death bowling - threatened some pressure with three dot balls, Denly carved two boundaries backward of square on the off side.
Denly and Higgins needed a Little Bit O'Luck - two chances falling short of fielders at long-off and extra-cover - but their century stand at more than nine-an-over deserved it. The Middlesex supporters were owed it.
Denly outgunned Craig Kieswetter, whose 74 in 59 balls led Somerset to 152 which is often defended in domestic T20 at The Oval. Kieswetter has, for the second season, showed how dangerous his sharp eye and quick hands can be. Here, he became the first batsman to pass 300 runs in the competition this season.
His innings was top and tailed by bursts of boundaries. In the Powerplay, he flicked James Harris to the midwicket fence, then hammered him straight for four more having given himself room outside leg stump. He was forced to be circumspect during the middle overs against chiefly the clever left-arm spin of Ravi Patel. But in the closing overs he finally freed himself against Patel to strike him over long-off for six and took two fours from the penultimate over.
Kieswetter's knock mirrored Somerset's progress; 41 were taken off the first five overs and 48 from the final five. The middle 10 saw the Middlesex slower bowlers, Patel, Neil Dexter and Ollie Rayner, gain control: they conceded only two fours and a six during that period.
Patel is Middlesex's leading wicket-taker in the T20 Blast. He tempted both Chris Jones - playing instead of Marcus Trescothick who picked up a groin injury in the last Championship match and was not risked here with Sunday's fixture at Trent Bridge in mind - and an over later, Peter Trego, into sweeping at the short leg-side boundary and holing out to Dawid Malan off top edges.
Middlesex could not hold the whole innings together. Together with Kieswetter's late kick, James Hildreth provided 26 in 13 balls, including consecutive reverse-swept fours off Rayner in an 18th over which yielded 14. But Denly and Higgins ensured the late progress was not enough.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo