Middlesex 355 (Eskinazi 135, Robson 103, Chappell 3-75) beat Nottinghamshire 328 (Hameed 114, Slater 90, Yadav 4-54) by 27 runs
It is the month of best-dressed occasions at some of the county’s game’s lovelier venues. Last week Lancashire’s players were at Sedbergh and York; this week Kent have played at Beckenham, and Hampshire have visited Newclose. And today Nottinghamshire arrived again at Grantham, a Lincolnshire idyll that neither power lines nor the dry, metallic roar of the A1 can disturb.
But England bakes brown in the heat and the small world of English cricket burns with debate – even more heat than light, indeed. So perhaps Gorse Lane supplied precisely the balm that many of us were seeking, especially so given this was a Royal London Cup game that yielded 683 runs, two huge partnerships, three centurions and an outcome that was in doubt until the moment Haseeb Hameed swung a trifle desperately across the line at a ball from Toby Greatwood and edged a catch to James Cracknell.
But at least the conditions served up nearly eight hours entertainment for a crowd who have long known that bat and ball are their own music and that silence is to be treasured rather than feared. Not all venues and not all spectators have reached the same understanding this schizophrenic August but this was a home game for Nottinghamshire, a county which cares for its members and is guided by their experience. Other clubs view the people who have paid their annual fees for perhaps half a century as an unnecessary encumbrance. For what can loyalty and love matter when set against the building of hotels and the iron priority of profit, and then more profit until the reason for it is gone?
Such thoughts became increasingly distant on an afternoon when fine cricketers, some of them hardly well-known, pursued their trade at a club whose members had clearly planned for games like this for months. If the glare of the notebook’s white page hurt the eyes, it was the only pain any spectators suffered, for most had arrived with picnics and umbrellas and the gentle enthusiasm often shown by folk who have been doing this sort of thing for years.
For a time, though, Nottinghamshire’s bowlers were not so charmed. The square apart, the Gorse Lane ground resembles nothing so much as a mammoth digestive biscuit and any grass left on the pitch this morning bound the surface together rather than offering quicker bowlers much hope. That, at any rate, was how it seemed for at least 35 overs of Middlesex’s innings as Eskinazi and Sam Robson put on 234 for their side’s second wicket and visiting supporters looked forward greedily to another hour of sun-saturated mayhem. It was a stand in which the bowlers’ every error was punished and on which the ball sped to the rope, as if unwilling to stay in contact with the hot field any longer than was necessary. There was a breeze but that only kept things merely sweltering rather than spontaneously combustible.
Both Eskinazi and Robson learned their cricket in Australia. Temperatures in the high eighties do not trouble them and neither did any of Hameed’s bowlers, a matter which may have caused Nottinghamshire’s 50-over skipper to regret his decision to bowl first. Hameed may also have recognised that Eskinazi is in the form of his career and batsmen are loath to give it away in such circumstances. The Middlesex skipper pummelled the home attack though the covers and his only six, a pick-up over midwicket off Zak Chappell, was the shot of a day on which it had plenty of competition.
It turned out that Eskinazi was in world-beating form. His 104-ball 135 gave him the highest ever aggregate in List A over three innings and following his 182 against Durham and 146 against Surrey, he is also the first cricketer to make at least 130 in three successive List A visits. Once he had gauged the pace of the pitch, Robson was not so far behind his partner and when the pair were bounding along at a minimum of seven runs an over, it seemed that the football pundit’s cliché that the score “could be anything” had some application to cricket. Such vulgar comparisons always worry cricket lovers, so perhaps it was propitious that once Robson had played on to Brett Hutton and Eskinazi had been bowled when trying to pull Dane Paterson, the game changed rather radically.
Instead of regarding 400 as something of a minimum target, Middlesex lost their last nine wickets for 86 runs with all Hameed’s main bowlers enjoying some success and James Hayes, who bowls a lively medium pace, taking two wickets on his first-team debut. His initial taste of county cricket has once promised to be rather more bitter. The question now, though, was whether the pitch was as flat as Eskinazi and Robson had made it appear or as difficult for strokeplay as the later Middlesex batsmen had suggested.
Nottinghamshire’s reply certainly revealed the perils of trying to score too quickly, too early on this Gorse Lane wicket. Both Sol Budinger and Dane Schadendorf fell in Yadav’s third over and it was left to Hameed and Slater to give their side a chance of victory with a stand of 191 in 29 overs. The pair matched each other run for run and it was pleasing to see that Hameed has now added some unorthodox strokes to his formidable conventional repertoire. That said, 50-over cricket may be the limit of his short-form ambitions. It is easier to imagine Nadine Dorries playing chess than Haseeb Hameed playing in the Vitality Blast.
Slater’s 95-ball 90 was ended by Martin Andersson’s fine catch at deep square leg off Sam Robson, who then immediately had Matt Montgomery caught at the wicket for nought Fateh Singh’s 21-ball 45 revived home spectators but when he and Hameed were dismissed in the space of three overs, it was time to prepare to depart. Time also, to return to the real world in all its unreality.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications