Malan masterclass fells Lancashire
Middlesex 176 for 7 (Malan 103, Flintoff 3-17) beat Lancashire 164 for 8 (Flintoff 53, Murtagh 3-35) by 12 runs
For a team containing six international players, Lancashire were expected to cruise past Middlesex's motley crew of Londoners, South Africans and Irishmen, and never more so than when they reduced the hosts to 21 for 4. They were denied by one man, Dawid Malan, the 20-year-old left-hander, whose magnificent 103 inspired Middlesex to produce a memorable comeback.
It was all Lancashire at the start, however. A fired-up Dominic Cork rolled back the years with a vintage display of aggression to remove Billy Godleman while Owais Shah chipped Glenn Chapple straight to mid-on. Ed Joyce perhaps underestimated Cork's ageing legs, gloving a bouncer and receiving a furious send-off from the bowler. Middlesex were tottering, and their position soon became a stumble when Francis du Plessis pulled off a scorching snaffle at backward point - airborne, diving to his left - to take Ben Scott. At 21 for 4, Middlesex looked down and out.
The switch in momentum was stolen quickly, savagely, by Malan and Eoin Morgan, though helped by Stuart Law's decision to bring on his spinners. Malan appears talented enough to cope with fast or slow bowling, but the disdain with which he treated du Plessis and Simon Marshall was a treat for the Middlesex fans who trekked down to south London. The du Plessis experiment lasted six balls and cost Lancashire heavily, as Malan - of slight build and average height - lofted him for sixes over long-off, midwicket and another even bigger blow into the leg-side stand. His fifty came from 28 balls and Middlesex were back in the game.
Quick to move his feet but showing an excellent, solid base, Malan expanded his strokeplay against the seamers, going inside out against Cork to cream him effortlessly over extra cover. These were shots of the highest class, and not a slog was witnessed. He was less assured against Andrew Flintoff, but then most batsmen are these days. After cracking his sixth six, he nudged Cork for a single to bring up a breathless hundred from 51 balls, earning handshakes from several sporting Lancastrians. He fell for 103, almost apologetically raising his bat.
Middlesex carried the momentum with them onto the field at The Oval, their temporary home ground in place of Lord's while it hosts England's first Test against South Africa. The atmosphere was distinctly partisan, however. From one young rising star to another, Steven Finn, whose immaculate length earned him 2 for 28. Lancashire, like Middlesex, lost their top three quickly to the fine new-ball pairing of Finn and Tim Murtagh - but Flintoff looked to be approaching his batting best, and gave Lancashire cause for hope with a rollicking 53. Shaun Udal was dispatched over the top for two huge blows as Flintoff began to find ominous timing until he inexplicably clunked a leg-side full-toss to deep square leg. His own bafflement was mirrored by the embarrassment of the bowler, Finn.
Lancashire's lower-order fought hard with a pair of 20s from Kyle Hogg and Chapple, but Middlesex were impressively slick in the field. In particular, Tyron Henderson - Twenty20's leading wicket-taker - and Murali Kartik mixed up their lengths and never let Lancashire settle, both conceding a miserly 28 as Middlesex snuck home by 12 runs. And in Malan they have unearthed a rather fine player, too.
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo