<
>

Stirling's all-round show settles Middlesex nerves with victory in London derby

A big Lord's crowd saw Middlesex prosper in the London derby Getty Images

Middlesex 161 for 7 (Stirling 66, Cartwright 38) beat Surrey 158 for 6 (Clarke 50, Stirling 3-26) by three wickets
Scorecard

Middlesex survived a dramatic mid-innings collapse to open their Blast campaign with a win against local rivals Surrey.

Apparently cruising to victory at 88 for 1, Middlesex lost four wickets from the next seven deliveries to leave the game wide open. Had Morne Morkel, at mid-off, held on to a chance offered by Hilton Cartwright on nine, the match may well have turned.

But the chance - tough, but one Morkel would have expected to take - went begging and Cartwright went on to make a decisive 38 to help Middlesex to a three-wicket win with six deliveries unused.

It's hardly surprising that this was a nervy performance from Middlesex. What might have been anticipated as a promotion-winning Championship cruise has become bogged down in mid-table mediocrity, while a disappointing Royal London campaign ended at the first hurdle. The head coach, Richard Scott, paid for the lack of progress with his job a few days ago and there are players in the squad contemplating an uncertain future. Tellingly, their fielding - so often the barometer of a side's confidence - was wretched. It cost them every bit of 12 runs and possibly more.

In the end, though, the bright start provided by Paul Stirling proved defining. Chasing what was probably a target as many as 20 under par, Stirling thrashed a 22-ball half-century. He took three fours and a six off Morkel's first over - a no-ball saw it cost 22 - timing the ball beautifully and targeting a small boundary to one side with both power and precision.

Combined with his canny bowling earlier in the piece - Stirling took three for 26 with his waspish off-spin - it was hardly surprising he was named man of the match.

Perhaps Surrey may rue their selection, too. While a combination of issues - mainly injury and international calls, but Mark Stoneman is absent for personal reasons - biting deep into even their resources, they decided to give a first-team debut to 17-year-old Jamie Smith. He is, without doubt, an outstanding talent. But to play a batsman at No. 8 and not select a second spinner seemed like an error on a dry pitch that offered a little help to such bowlers. Tellingly, while Middlesex bowled 10 overs of spin, Surrey had only four to offer.

And, with Dwayne Bravo - representing his 20th T20 team in professional cricket - playing his 392nd game in this format bowling and bowling to Smith at the death, it is hardly surprising the final four overs of the Surrey innings realised just 17 runs.

Despite Sam Curran being released to play this match - he will return to Cardiff in order to be available for Friday's IT20 against India - Surrey looked some way under strength. And while their development system is a wonderful thing - gone are the days when they seemed to rely disproportionately on the cheque book for their next player - and here saw them field a side including eight men who had come through their own youth system, the lack of experience probably told. So instead of an overseas player, they had four men aged 20 or younger and instead of big-hitting top-order - the likes of Jason Roy, Aaron Finch or Nic Maddinson - they had talented all-rounders (the likes of Ben Foakes, Clarke and Curran) who all looked as if they were batting a place or two too high.

Tellingly, it was Surrey's older players who turned in their side's key performances. With the bat it was 36-year-old Rikki Clarke, with his first T20 half-century in three-years, who led the way, while with the ball it was 40-year-old Gareth Batty who sparked the collapse with a mean four-over spell that cost just 18. 88 for one became 89 for five as first Batty and then Morkel found themselves on a hat-trick and Middlesex started to pay for a lack of composure.

Cartwright just about help his nerve, however, and with James Fuller providing calm support, they just about held their nerve.

Earlier Tom Helm gave another demonstration of his promise with an array of beautifully disguised slower balls, generally delivered - to perfection - out of the back of his hand. With the Surrey top-order lacking fire power and Ollie Pope perhaps batting too low at No. 6, Middlesex's spinners suffocated Surrey's progress after a bright start - they were 56 for one after the first six overs - while Bravo's variations ensure there was to be no late acceleration.

So, an encouraging start for Middlesex but a worrying one for Surrey. They have earned a strong reputation for their ticket sales in recent years - London will see more than 50,000 people at two Blast matches across Thursday and Friday - but it has not quite been matched by their performances on the pitch. They expect to have their overseas players within days but by then they may be playing catch-up. Friday's sell-out match against Kent is already looking important.