Wessels blast completes stunning chase
Nottinghamshire 392 (Hales 96, Murtagh 6-93) and 387 for 4 (Hales 94, Jacques 76) beat Middlesex 505 (Morgan 191, Rogers 180) and 271 for 9 dec. (Stirling 66*, Gurney 4-76) by six wickets
In a Championship that remains a wide open contest, Nottinghamshire have taken over the leadership, at least temporarily. In spite of conceding more than 500 runs in the first innings and being outplayed for much of the opening three days, they pulled off a stunning victory, achieving a target of 385 with only four wickets down and with more than 11 of the available overs to spare.
Only twice in their history had they scored more in the fourth innings total to win a match and the only county to achieve a higher last-innings score to win a match are Middlesex themselves, who reached 502 for 6 in 1925 on the back of a double hundred from Patsy Hendren. Nottinghamshire's own record was made in 2001, when they knocked off 461 with only three wickets down against Worcestershire at New Road in 2001, when Greg Blewett and Darren Bicknell made centuries.
As all of those facts confirm, run chases of this magnitude rarely come off, even when the maths suggest they might. The vital component is always a good start and it was that which made the difference this time. Nottinghamshire needed to score at four-and-a-half an over; for the first 30 overs they exceeded five, and did not lose a wicket.
On a pitch which forgave few errors from the bowlers, there were enough on both sides for boundaries to be common currency and it was a pattern that continued. Nottinghamshire got off to a flying start and never looked back.
Phil Jaques and Alex Hales plundered fours at every opportunity and were not parted at the top of the order until they had put on 156 when, the 31st over, Jaques swept Patel and found Toby Roland-Jones at deep-midwicket. Hales had been lucky once or twice, dropped on 58 and 86, but from such a strong position it was Nottinghamshire's match to lose. Middlesex did not bowl well enough at any point to look like stopping them.
Hales disappointed himself by getting out in the 90s for the second time in the match, this time leg before sweeping, but he had again played impressively, appearing to be on top of the technical shortcomings that undermined him last season. Much more of this and the possibility of an England career beyond Twenty20 will beckon.
Michael Lumb passed fifty for the first time this season and though he and Samit Patel were out in the space of five balls - the only moment in which the outcome seemed even remotely in doubt - it was a short-lived scare. Patel will regret squandering his chance with a loose shot taken low down at short extra-cover, but James Taylor and Riki Wessels negotiated this mini-crisis as adeptly as could have been asked of them.
With time on their side, they took a few overs to weigh things up, which was necessary given that Ravi Patel's left-arm spin had claimed three of the four wickets, but once they felt safe to do so went back on the front foot with intent.
Wessels in particular took the initiative. His unbeaten 74 came in only 48 balls and included five sixes, the last of them pulled over midwicket as Eoin Morgan turned his arm over for the first time in seven years in a Championship match.
"It is up there with any win we've had since I've been coach," Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's director of cricket said afterwards. "Looking at today in isolation, for six blokes to pass fifty and finish the game as convincingly as that it is a wonderful batting effort.
"But over the course of days two, three and four we have put in a performance that has dragged us back after a poor first day. I can't remember giving away the best part of 800 runs in a match and still winning.
"Alex and Phil provided a great platform. You need to make a good start because if you lose wickets early you never think you'll make the runs. You can only cock it up in the first hour. You can only win it at half past five. You can't really plan a day like today.
"The opening partnerships and the ones that followed were outstanding. They kept the rate up so that we never had to push on past four or five an over. But lots of things go into a win like this. Knocking them over for less than a hundred runs on the second morning was important and then the contribution of Luke Fletcher and Andre Adams down the bottom of our innings got us close enough."
Chris Rogers, the vanquished captain who had seen his side score 472 to beat Yorkshire at Lord's earlier in the season, insisted the declaration had been timed correctly.
"You have to be positive and be prepared to lose and that was the reason for a relatively early declaration," he said. "We probably out played them for three days and we wanted to win the game. I would have made that declaration 10 times out of 10 because if you set that kind of total and lose on a day four wicket you are going to have to bowl exceptionally badly. Unfortunately, apart from Ravi, no one stepped up.
"Notts played very well, particularly up front, but we were pretty ordinary. If you get early wickets a run chase becomes impossible but we didn't and couldn't stop them, and that was disappointing."