Stirling, Franklin distract Lord's drinkers in style
Middlesex 205 for 5 (Stirling 90, Morgan 54*) beat Kent 90 (Franklin 5-21) by 105 runs
For most counties Friday is T20 night but Middlesex have always preferred Thursdays. The stroll from St John's Wood to Lord's, brimming with City types anticipating their first T20 game of the season, showed why.
Many had come armed with the permitted maximum four cans of beer and intending to drink rather more than that. Such supplies have often come in handy for Middlesex fans in T20: the side finished bottom of the South Group last season, winning only two of their 13 completed matches. A seven-wicket defeat at Bristol last week hardly suggested 2015 would be much better for Eoin Morgan's side.
A lot has happened since Morgan last played in a game in England. He has been made ODI captain, an appointment widely cheered; led England to a particular gruesome World Cup exit, even by recent standards; and retained as ODI captain to the chagrin of many. A sojourn in the IPL brought few runs but much tut-tutting about missing an England ODI in Ireland..
So perhaps it was just as well that from his fourth ball, nonchalantly lofted over long-on for six, Morgan reaffirmed his limited-overs class. The next ball thundered to the square leg boundary, and Morgan felt near his best; Fabian Cowdrey, swatted for two huge sixes over the legside, will certainly testify as much. Morgan was utterly blasé upon reaching a 25-ball half-century, a man set on plundering plenty more runs this summer.
As it happened, Morgan's was far from the most destructive innings of the night. That accolade fell to his Irish compatriot Paul Stirling, with whom Morgan amassed a century stand in only 48 balls. He has a chunky demeanour and uses his bat rather like a chisel, swatting anything slightly short over long-on or midwicket. At his best there is something wonderfully dismissive to his batting, marrying timing and raw power and caring little for foot movement.
Several of Stirling's seven sixes were monstrous. Having sailed past 82, his previous best T20 score, it was a matter of considerable surprise when he lashed Stevens to midwicket on 90. Still, the authority with which Stirling played - Morgan reckoned it was the best he had ever seen him play - added to the sense of bewilderment that he is marooned in Middlesex's second XI in red ball cricket.
The upshot was that Middlesex cleared 200 and reached their highest-ever T20 score at Lord's, though it could have been even more: only 35 runs were added in the 4.4 overs after Morgan's dismissal, with Mitch Claydon bowling with skill and subtlety. Joe Burns, Middlesex's high-class overseas batsman who has made his name in the first-class game, cut a rather incongruous sight attempting to heave in the death overs.
As Kent had hit 178 to win in their previous T20 match at Hampshire, they would not have regarded the total as unreachable, especially when Joe Denly exquisitely flicked his first ball, a good length delivery on off stump from Kyle Abbott, to midwicket for four.
Any optimism did not last much longer as Kent's innings rapidly descended into a series of brainless slogs. Against the New Zealander James Franklin, who does not count as an overseas player because of an Irish passport, the swipes kept finding the legside fielders. He twice found himself on a hat-trick en route to his maiden T20 five-for.
Aspects of Kent's strategy - promoting Matt Coles to No. 3 while demoting Sam Billings to No. 5 - also appeared perplexing. Bowled out inside 15 overs, the final dismissal - Cowdrey caught behind attempting a reverse sweep - seemed appropriately calamitous. So ignominious was their effort that it might have reminded the Lord's crowd not distracted by their drinks of Middlesex's own batting performances here last year.
"As close to a perfect performance as we'll get throughout the whole summer," was Morgan's assessment. That Nathan Sowter, a 22-year-old legspinner born in Australia, picked up two wickets in four balls merely added to Middlesex's sense of contentment.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts