Richard Hobson at Lord’s
Middlesex 210 for 8 (Morgan 70, de Villiers 64, T Curran 3-36) beat Surrey 146 (Finch 47, Finn 5-16) by 64 runs
The Middlesex website had it down as the hottest ticket in town. There was a bit of competition: Rachmaninov at the Albert Hall, the Bolshoi Ballet at the Royal Opera House and Harry Potter on Shaftesbury Avenue. But nothing, really, to quite match AB de Villiers and Eoin Morgan at Lord’s.
From the first Twenty20 fixture at Lord’s in 2004, which just happened to pit Middlesex against Surrey, this particular game has been viewed as a barometer for the success of the format. And it is clearly thriving. The 27,773 crowd, in beating the 27,509 of 15 years ago, is believed to be a record for a limited-overs game in England apart from finals. No wonder touts were lining up outside.
Problems on the Jubilee Line meant it was well underway before the attendance passed 25,000, but few seats remained unoccupied by the time Morgan and de Villiers came together in the seventh over. And even fewer were vacated during the 10.2 overs that followed, a period bringing 115 runs with the World Cup-winning captain out-hitting the great South African.
They posted the highest fourth-wicket stand for Middlesex in Twenty20 and, with a couple of late sixes by John Simpson thrown in, established a target that meant Surrey could not afford even a short fallow period across the reply. Aaron Finch started with typical fire and Sam Curran maintained something close to that tempo, but they needed more and for longer.
The collapse when it came was alarming – eight wickets for 29 runs – but not entirely unpredictable. It also represented a personal triumph for Steven Finn, who would have completed a six-wicket haul had he held on to a tough return push from Gareth Batty in his final over. As it was, figures of 5 for 16 represent the best of his career and the second best of the competition this season.
De Villiers, therefore, leaves Middlesex with the victory that makes his return next month the more likely. He is heading home to honour commitments made before he signed, but is available again if they reach the quarter-finals. As things stand, they sit third in the southern group with five wins from seven games. Surrey, next to bottom, are almost doomed.
Thames-side bragging rights are also assured because this was the first time since 2008 that Middlesex have beaten their neighbours home and away in Twenty20. Victory at the Oval last month owed most to a crunching 117 by Dawid Malan, and when Malan succumbed third ball for 117 fewer this time, Surrey might have imagined a reversal of the earlier result.
Unfortunately, they missed the one chance offered by de Villiers before his eventual dismissal, a throw by Ben Foakes that could have pulled off a run out with the batsman in single figures. There felt something symbolic in the way the ball sped for overthrows, and de Villiers quickly forced Imran Tahir for three successive fours where speed of hand matched ingenuity of footwork.
Morgan did not make batting look as easy or smooth, but he consistently clouted the bowling, driving and smearing Tahir for a quartet of sixes and raising his fifty from 27 balls. A first six from de Villiers raised his own half-century from seven balls more and he continued on to 64 before mistiming a full toss from Tom Curran into the leg side. Morgan fell in the next over, the 19th, trying to repeat a six over long-on against Jade Dernbach. By this stage, Dernbach might have rued his decision to insert.
A short boundary towards the Mound Stand created hitting opportunities, and Finch began aggressively with four fours in a row when Helm allowed too much width towards that side of the field. Middlesex were fortunate to remove him on 47, Simpson fumbling a ball from Nathan Sowter with Finch beaten in the flight only to see it drop from the keeper’s gloves on to the stumps. Sam Curran became Finn’s first victim with a top-edged pull, Ollie Pope screwed into the off side and Middlesex finished the innings ruthlessly.
For star quality as well as crowd and a sheer sense of occasion it is hard to think The Hundred next year will bring any greater allure. Between them the teams fielded 16 internationals; it would have been 17 had England allowed Jason Roy to play. Strange times, indeed, when Roy is rested from the white-ball game to prepare for a Test, though it was nice to imagine him blocking out a maiden here and then explaining to baffled team-mates: “That’s the way I play.”
A fine catch by Helm ended the evening eight balls ahead of schedule, prompting a final chorus of “Sweet Caroline” which might well have echoed as far as the Opera House. Crowds approaching 28,000 are not always tuneful, but they do make a heck of a noise even at the home of the MCC.