Bouyant Middlesex barely break sweat
Middlesex 116 for 3 (Morgan 47) beat Essex 115 for 9 (Dexter 46, Murtagh 3-24) by seven wickets
Just now, Middlesex, who have done little but struggle in recent seasons, are finding cricket a rather easy game. After beating Hampshire on Wednesday, they cruised to a seven-wicket win over Essex at Lord's with 19 balls to spare, a result which takes them to the giddy heights of the top of the South Division.
Buoyed by three straight wins, Middlesex were tight in the field, capped by a string of good steepling catches, and batted with sense in a well-paced chase. Essex, however, will take nothing from a game where their batsmen perished to a series of swings and cross-batted swipes, and their fielding verged on the woeful.
Essex's innings never got out of first gear, and bar a slog-swept six from Neil Dexter, the only batsman to show any inkling of how to bat in this format, there was little to inspire a crowd of around 18,000. Ed Smith, the Middlesex captain, rotated his quick bowlers - there were five bowling changes in the first ten overs and 11 in all - and used his spinners to choke the life out of the middle overs.
Tim Murtagh, Dirk Nannes and Tyron Henderson all mixed yorkers with deliveries just short of a length and the batsmen, who almost all opted not to use their feet to any purpose, showed little inclination to try to break the stranglehold. This allowed Smith to maintain attacking fields - as late as the tenth over there were two slips in place - and Shaun Udal and Murali Kartik added to the pressure with tight wicket-to-wicket bowling.
Dexter played an excellent anchor innings but found nobody remotely likely to stay with him. Middlesex held all but one chance that came their way, the best being a running, diving catch at third man by the evergreen Udal, and fielded like a side who knew there was a multi-million pot at the end of the rainbow.
Defending such a low total, Essex's only hope was to take early wickets. As it was, they spilt five catches, four in the slips and even their ground fielding grew shabbier by the over.
Andrew Strauss, who on Tuesday had joked he doubted he was high on any IPL wish-list, met his own expectations with a scratchy 11, dragging a drive into his stumps, but it was a success the bowlers failed to capitalise on
Eoin Morgan made a mockery of Essex's earlier efforts, cracking a 36-ball 47 with some lovely strokeplay. He unleashed two textbook cuts that fizzed to the boundary and then lofted a six over extra cover. He deserved a fifty but was deprived by a misunderstanding with David Malan when the result was done and dusted.
Smith was dropped three times, twice off routine catches at first slip by James Middlebrook, and did not seem hampered by a injury sustained when he slipped turning for a second run early in his innings. If anything, he batted better when hobbling with Strauss running for him.
This was far from a Twenty20 classic - it was too one-sided for that. In all there were only 19 fours and two sixes. The crowd were subdued - the chilly evening did not help - and it was a far cry from the razzmatazz of the IPL.
A fortnight ago disgruntled Middlesex members called for a special meeting to discuss the club's plight. Since then the side has reeled off a series of wins and at this rate that evening could turn out to be more of a party. For now, at least, it's happy days at Lord's.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo