Frustration for McCullum as Hampshire spinners have last word

Hampshire 204 for 5 (Dawson 68*) beat Middlesex 295 for 8 (McCullum 74, Morgan 52, Crane 4-80) by five wickets (D/L method)

There was something rather contradictory, yet ever so appropriate, about Brendon McCullum's first meaningful act as a Middlesex player taking place at Radlett.

Beyond the fact that Radlett is not actually in Middlesex (it is in Hertfordshire), it is a funny little place. So little, in fact, that T20 cricket - the game from which McCullum now makes his living - cannot be played here. The boundaries are just too diddy, as the New Zealander showed in this Royal London Cup fixture with four simply-struck sixes in his 74. One easily cleared the sightscreen, another - towards cow - hit a tree 15 metres up.

But Radlett is also the ground that proves that Middlesex, like the All Blacks, and like McCullum's Black Caps, as he so eloquently explained when giving the Cowdrey Lecture on Monday evening, have a no-dickheads policy.

It has a different name in these parts - Angus Fraser speaks of the 'Middlesex DNA' - but the comparison rings true. When the county played at Radlett in previous years, it had been felt that one end, which leads down to a clear field, meant that plenty of time was being wasted chasing the ball. So, this off-season, Middlesex's squad were brought up here, and they built a fence. This was not just a practical benefit for Radlett and Middlesex, but a neat team-building exercise too.

The game, however, was less impressive for Middlesex and went a long way to explaining why they were so keen to bring a white-ball cricketer of McCullum's pedigree and calibre to the club.

His innings had got them off to a flyer on a slow pitch yet, having been 190 for 2 in the 30th over, they contrived to limp to just 295, with Mason Crane's legspin claiming four vital wickets, including McCullum himself, a ball after he had plonked him down the ground for six.

Then, after a two-hour rain delay spat out a DLS equation that seemed to favour Middlesex (the visitors needed 202 from 26 overs), Hampshire cruised home with greater ease than the scorecard - three balls remaining - suggested. Middlesex, as McCullum's T20 debut v Gloucestershire proved last Thursday, still do not know how to close out white-ball games.

That they did not was largely down to Liam Dawson, who shared 89 in nine overs to turn the game with Sean Ervine, and finished unbeaten on 68 from 40. Dawson, such a canny cricketer, pulled beautifully and knew exactly where the gaps in the deep lay, with the six twos he found proving vital.

Middlesex managed to feed the strengths of both he and Ervine, who was rather more belligerent in his approach, with only Toby Roland-Jones, who earlier claimed the vital wicket of Jimmy Adams, caught at deep cover, able to limit scoring.

Shortly after Adams fell, Paul Stirling, who, with damp ball in hand, would be relentlessly attacked by Ervine and Dawson, had Adam Wheater stumped outside off and Middlesex were back in control. Dawson, even after James Fuller yorked Ervine, always looked to have a tricky chase in hand. His non-playing role in the England squad at the World T20 is unlikely to be his last involvement with the national side.

Middlesex's innings had seen a progression of batsmen get settled, and then, emboldened by McCullum's gung-hoism, depart. The top three breezed to 190 but Crane bowled Dawid Malan and McCullum's knock - not always fluent but with those brilliant wrists and powerful forearms to the fore - came to end when he tamely edged a turner to slip. Nick Gubbins, as strong on the cut as ever, was pinned in front trying to flick to leg.

And that is when the stuttering started. Eoin Morgan looked ready to explode, a beautiful late cut followed by a fine cover drive and a six down the ground, but then - with 19-year-old Crane bowling the first ball of a new spell - he slapped straight to deep midwicket.

Crane had seemed unperturbed by being given some tap - his ten overs did cost 80 compared to Dawson's 32 - but he returned to bowl the 46th over, dismissed a fourth set batsman, James Franklin, and ended Middlesex's hopes of the score their start had demanded: all but one of the top seven passed 20 but none reached 75. All of which, as Dawson calmly negotiated the target Hampshire's spin pairing had set up, seemed very important indeed.

Hampshire 2nd innings Partnerships

11JHK AdamsJJ Weatherley
62JHK AdamsAJA Wheater
7SM ErvineAJA Wheater
89SM ErvineLA Dawson
30WR SmithLA Dawson
5GM AndrewLA Dawson