Middlesex show their strength in depth
Middlesex 185 for 8 (Godleman 68, Robson 37, Afzaal 3-21)
Surrey 184 for 9 in 50 overs (Newman 56, Walters 33, Finn 3-43,
Murtagh 2-24) by 2 wickets
Middlesex's youngsters proved too strong for Surrey who were beaten by two wickets with three balls to spare in Sunday's Pro Arch Trophy clash in Sharjah.
After two wins from as many starts, Middlesex rested their captain and front-line spinner, Shaun Udal, along with allrounder Tyron Henderson and batsman Dawid Malan for their third Group S game, but their superior tactics, team spirit and execution of their skills saw them reach Wednesday's Abu Dhabi final with an unblemished record despite a late batting collapse.
Responding to Surrey's below-par total of 184 for 9, Middlesex got off to a solid start under lights as young openers Billy Godleman and the well-organised Sam Robson both dug in responsibly. Robson, a wiry 19-year-old Australian-born right-hander, was spotted while playing for Perth-based club side Eastern Suburbs. With an English mother and a UK passport to his name, he looks to be a decent find.
Godleman unfurled the occasional classy shot, including a clipped four off Stewart Walters over midwicket and a six into the seats over long on , but both batsmen were prepared to rotate the strike and sprint for their singles like whippets. The pair posted 101 for the first wicket before Robson, playing back to a shooting Schofield top-spinner, was bowled for a dogged 37 from 92 balls. Godleman sailed on sublimely to a 77-ball half century and looked untroubled in reaching 68 from 101 balls until a rush of blood, and a cross-batted slog against Murtaza Hussein, sent him packing.
A further five Middlesex wickets fell to spin, as Usman Afzaal picked up 3 for 21, but his Middlesex counterpart Murtagh came in to hit the winning run.
Surrey's innings proved something of a stop-start affair a little like the sandstorm that swept the ground for the first hour of the match, only to end as suddenly as it started. It made conditions out in the middle uncomfortable for all involved. "I can still taste the sand in my mouth," said Chris Silverwood. "It feels like I've been licking a camel's foot!"
Despite the sweeping sand, the Middlesex attack maintained their focus on the job in hand and produced the best combined bowling display of this tournament to date. Silverwood, Alan Richardson, Steve Finn and acting captain Murtagh were all prepared to run in hard and hit the pitch just short of a good length. As a result, all four were hard to get away and, every time a Surrey batsman's patience evaporated, Middlesex struck.
In their opening spells Murtagh and Finn set the tone, bowling a tight line and length to tie down Surrey's expansive right-hander James Benning whose patience ran thin when he clipped a return-catch to Murtagh.
That was pretty much the trend for Surrey; only Scott Newman, with 56 from 83 balls and with five fours, showed the patience necessary to score on this firm pitch of unusually low bounce.
Even Usman Afzaal, captain for the day, was unable to hold his attacking intent in check and paid the price for an ill advised lofted drive when he holed out to mid-on off the excellent Richardson.
"We've a nice bowling attack, of that there's no doubt, there's nothing flash to it; they run in and hit the wicket hard. That's what they do," said Angus Fraser, Middlesex's director of cricket. "I spoke to Graham Gooch after the first game in Sharjah last Tuesday and he advised it was no good floating the ball up here, the seamers had to hit the pitch at the back of a length and attack it and me and the backroom staff are delighted how they did that.
"It's a very pleasant start for March 22 and we're a month away from our first Championship match, but I'd rather be playing the cricket we have here than scratching around not knowing where our next wicket is coming from."
After Newman's departure only Stewart Walters showed much desire to battle it out for Surrey, the 25-year-old Australian-born right-hander nurdled his way to 33 from 58 balls before the red mist got to him and he lost his leg stump to Gareth Berg as a result. It was a day Surrey will quickly want to forget.
Mark Pennell is a freelance journalist who is covering the Pro Arch Trophy for Cricinfo