May 2005

Middlesex sham, Irish rock

A lok back at the day Ireland beat Middlesex

Middlesex may have been expecting a straightforward win in the first round of 1997's Benson & Hedges Cup, but Ireland were ready for them. Although they'd recently failed to qualify for the 1999 World Cup, Ireland had won a European competition and the Triple Crown for the first time, beating an England amateur side, Wales and Scotland. Their overseas pro for the Benson & Hedges Cup was the South African captain Hansie Cronje. Interviews by Simon Lister



Angus Fraser: 'I've spent 10 or 15 nights in Dublin as a cricketer and only been sober on two of them' © Getty Images
Angus Fraser (Middlesex bowler) I've spent 10 or 15 nights in Dublin as a cricketer and only been sober on two of them - the two nights of that match. Considering how the game went, it seems like it was a wasted opportunity for a good drink.

Mike Hendrick (Ireland coach 1995-2000) There was a little bit of arrogance about Middlesex when they arrived at the ground. I think the attitude may have been "let's stick `em in, bowl `em out and knock `em off." Hansie had been with us for about a week. I'd told the lads that he was one of the best players in the world, but I didn't want anyone hiding behind him.

Alan Lewis (Ireland batsman) When he arrived, Cronje said his goal was to win two of the four Benson & Hedges games. There were a few raised eyebrows in the dressing room when he said that. We found he brought a fantastic simplicity to the way we played cricket. We looked professional and having him there helped that.

MH When it came out three years later that Cronje had been behind the match-fixing scandal I was staggered. He was the last bloke in the world I'd have thought would get involved in such a thing. Of the three overseas players Ireland had used - Steve Waugh and Jonty Rhodes being the others - Cronje was the best. Cronje scored 94 not out and took three wickets but the man of the match was a Londonderry abattoir worker called Desmond `Dekker' Curry.

AF Middlesex weren't much of a sledging side and when we found out that this lad could probably break a sheep's neck with his bare hands, we certainly weren't going to say anything to annoy him. Curry opened the batting and belted 75 in no time at all. Simon Cook was playing his first game for Middlesex. He went for 71 off nine overs.

Simon Cook I was 20 and had been signed at the end of the pre-season tour to Portugal. It had all happened very quickly. I'd never played anything other than club cricket; there'd been no 2nd XI games for Middlesex. I was in the middle of working a month's notice for a computer company in Oxford and had to take a few days' leave to play.

AL We knew Simon Cook was on his debut. We wanted to have a real cut at him. Dekker set the whole momentum - he was a run machine.

MH In club cricket, Curry was scoring hundreds for fun. He liked to play on his own terms and didn't see the game the way I did. But when he was in the right frame of mind, he was a real asset.

Mike Gatting (Middlesex captain) Desmond had an interesting day. When he mis-hit anything it dropped short of our fielders, when he connected, the ball went out of the ground.

MH The third ball of the match, Desmond went down the track and hit a six straight back over the bowler's head. Hansie looked at me as if to say "what's going on here?"

SC Gus Fraser had the whole thing worked out! The ground had a big slope running down towards the stumps at my end and the boundary behind me was tiny - it seemed like it was about 40 yards away. I was running into the wind. Gus, of course, bowled with the wind and the longer boundary behind him. With Ireland 117 for 2, Cronje came to the crease. The game was set up for him to take Ireland to a big score.

MH When Hansie batted, he just looked so smooth. I remember glancing at the scoreboard and thinking "How on earth has he got to 40-odd already?"

AL I was in with Hansie early on in his innings and after only a few balls he was hit on the pads right in front but the umpire gave him not out. Later he said to me "What should we do now?" and I thought "What's he's asking me for?" I replied: "Shall we move it along at around four an over for the next few?" Cronje said: "No. I want five runs from you this over."

Even though it was April and a green wicket, Middlesex played three spinners who bowled 21 overs between them.

AF Cronje was always in control because he was such a good player of spin. He knew if he stayed in they'd get a minimum of 250 because they'd had such a good start.

MG Cronje kept it ticking over and was safe at one end, so it allowed everyone else to come in and have a whack.

SC When I came back for my second spell they got after me. I was completely inexperienced; I didn't know how to take the pace off the ball or how to bowl yorkers. I was just turning around from my mark and running in. Cronje got stuck in and hit me for a couple of massive sixes.

The middle order weighed in and Ireland finished on 281 for 4 from their 50 overs.

MG Before the match I hoped we'd bowl them out for about 180. But at the end they knocked it about and hit an extra 30 or so. I think I would have been happy if we'd had to score 240, maybe 250. That would have been OK. When it came to our batting, we didn't really get going. There were no real partnerships. We'd get established then lose a couple of wickets.

Mark Ramprakash top scored for Middlesex with 34. When it rained late in the innings it meant play would be carried over to a second day. Overnight, Middlesex were 134 for 6 and a huge upset was on the cards.

AF I was padded up, so that's a pretty good indication of how desperate the situation was.

MH All we had were medium pacers but the pitch was slow so it didn't really come on to the bat and that didn't help Middlesex. We also took a couple of great catches. Overnight I was happy and we all went out for a meal together but there was no way I was getting too excited. I knew from experience that with Ireland, nothing was ever straightforward.

MG It was a pretty tough situation at the end of the first day. We only had a few wickets left and I guessed that Phil Tufnell wasn't going to hit the winning runs for us.

Tufnell and Fraser put on 47 on the second morning to create some anxiety for the Irish but a required rate of more than eight an over was too much for the Middlesex lower order. They were bowled out for 235, losing by 46 runs.

MH When we eventually got that last wicket it was an absolutely brilliant feeling. I think someone had worked out that on average, county sides got beaten by amateurs once in about 200 fixtures - that was the scale of what we achieved. We enjoyed the moment in the dressing room. I had to get back to Belfast but there was no way I could drive. Someone else had to take me.

AL It was a very significant moment in our history but I'm sure we'd have traded it for getting to the 1999 World Cup. Having said that, for Ireland to beat a first-class county for the first time was magnificent. It was my burning ambition and it had been realised.

MG We had no overseas player and were probably stretched a bit thin but there was no reason why we should have lost. There were enough of us who knew how to play. Ireland deserved to win. They were the better side.

SC We were all very disappointed, not embarrassed but annoyed that as professionals, we hadn't nailed the job properly. When I was reading about it in the papers I realized that this was big stuff and I had to learn very fast.

AF It was embarrassing. We were professionals and we'd got our arses kicked by an amateur side. At the airport, one of the players got hold of a newspaper and looked at the inside back pages and couldn't see a match report. He said to me: "That's lucky Gus - I think we've got away with it." I said to him: "Don't be an idiot - have a look at the back page" - and there it was, the lead story splashed across all seven columns.

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