Walker powers Essex to title
Essex 238 for 5 (Walker 77, Mickleburgh 41, Evans 2-41) beat
Middlesex 235 for 9 (Malan 40, Godleman 38, ten Doeschate 2-28) by five wickets
Essex kept their cool in testing conditions at the Sheik Zayed Stadium on Wednesday night to add the Pro ARCH Trophy to their Friends Provident Trophy success of last season after beating Middlesex in an evenly contested final.
Perceived as a slightly unfashionable team without star names, Essex have performed soundly as a unit throughout this tournament, winning all four of their games to become worthy winners against an injury-hit Middlesex.
Chasing a modest target of 236 for victory, Essex were indebted to Matthew Walker, who signed from Kent during the off-season, whose unbeaten 97-ball 77 steered his new county to victory with 13 balls to spare. Walker was taken to hospital to receive treatment for dehydration in Sharjah after scoring a fifty on the first day of this tournament, yet after missing Essex's second game he bounced back with two more half-centuries - including a man-of-the-match knock in the final that included six fours and a six.
Though Walker collected a voucher for 40,000 air miles as his prize, the 35-year-old duly presented them to his team-mate Maurice Chambers, who also impressed during this event.
"The most important thing for a pre-season trip like this was for me to get a new bunch of lads and mix in with the dressing room and one of the best ways to do that is to play quite well out in the middle while you're at it," said Walker. "My winter has gone quite nicely, what with the way I trained and the practice and I've enjoyed the slow momentum of it leading into the season.
"I couldn't have hoped for anything more really so maybe the saline drip last Tuesday did me the world of good!
"I've not had the luxury of playing competitive games at this time of year with Kent and to do that and have good training facilities here has been ideal. It was nice to win [the Man-of-the-Match award] but I'm married to an air hostess so don't really need them so I gave them to Maurice because he's an up-and-coming bowler who's performed really well on this trip."
After coming to the crease with his side in a quandary at 69 for 2, Walker eased the nerves by posting 55 for the third wicket with Jaik Mickleburgh, who was stumped for 41, then a further 69 in a fourth-wicket stand of 69 with the consistent Ryan ten Doeschate (33). It helped the Essex cause that Middlesex's fast bowler Steve Finn was unable to bowl after picking up a chest injury whilst fielding, but that should not detract from Essex's win.
Having won the toss, the Middlesex innings appeared somewhat lethargic throughout; hardly surprising when taking account of the 38 degree temperatures and 90 percent humidity out in the middle. They were further hampered with by the absence of Tyron Henderson who had left for South Africa to sort out a visa problem, while Neil Dexter was also unavailable after tearing a hamstring two days ago. To make matters even more uncomfortable for their players, a 50-minute sandstorm swept the ground affecting visibility at the mid- point of their innings.
Middlesex made a hesitant start, but there was little Sam Robson could do about the delivery that send him packing for 14. A quick, late in-swinger beat the young right-hander for pace, went through the gate of his defensive push and clipped the very top of middle stump.
At the mid-point of their innings Middlesex had just crept into three figures but things worsened considerably when Dawid Malan, hampered slightly by a hamstring strain, pushed forward in defence and possibly outside the line of off-stump, only to be sent packing leg-before for a painstaking 40 from 55 balls. It was Middlesex's top score. As one Middlesex supporter succinctly put it, the innings fell apart like a $2 watch thereafter.
Only Gareth Berg, with 33 from 34 balls, made a contribution of note as the Panthers middle-order and tail-enders struggled to timing on a slow Abu Dhabi pitch.
The much underrated ten Doeschate was the pick of Essex's attack with 2 for 28. He was given admirable support by Jahid Ahmed, a 23-year-old seamer from Chelmsford, who chipped in with 2-46 as Essex backed their attack with lively fielding that helped restrict the run-rate down below five-an-over.
Mark Pennell is a freelance journalist who is covering the Pro Arch Trophy for Cricinfo