Middlesex will visit Edgbaston on Wednesday striving to strengthen their Specsavers County Championship title challenge with victory at the Bears’ expense. It is the latest clash between two longstanding powerhouses of county cricket who have between them won the championship 17 times. Brian Halford looks back on some of Middlesex’s eye-catching visits to Birmingham over the years.
These days, counties have grown accustomed to coping with losing their top players – the downside of the double-edged sword of producing players good enough to play at the highest level.
Players can be lost to Test cricket, Lions games, ODIs and international training camps, or just ordered to rest.
But such inconveniences are nothing new. When Middlesex arrived at Edgbaston for their championship match in 1951 they were without their three main men due to an occasion very much of its time: the annual Gentlemen v Players (amateurs v professionals) match at Lord’s.
Dennis Compton, Jack Robertson and Bill Edrich, the nucleus of their top order, were all called up for the showpiece match in London. Warwickshire, meanwhile, despite having a great season which was to bring them the title, had no-one selected – and their full-strength team took full advantage of the visitors’ weakened batting.
Tom Pritchard was first to do so, taking five for 59 as Middlesex made only 181. Warwickshire did not earn a huge lead, making only 264 (Tom Dollery 78, Jimmy Ord 68) but that was plenty as Eric Hollies then got to work on a wearing pitch. His 21.1-11-26-6, supported by paceman Charlie Grove’s two for six in nine overs, reduced Middlesex to 85 all out.
The Bears faced a victory target of three and acquired them from seven balls, the last of which was delivered by Leslie Compton – the only one he sent down all season. Against weakened opposition, Warwickshire had shown the ruthlessness of champions.
In sport, however much skill you have on your side, it always helps to have a bit of good luck as well. When Middlesex visited in Edgbaston in 2008, Ashley Giles, in his first season as Warwickshire director cricket, must have wondered whether the Cricket Gods were on his side as the Bears encountered an extraordinarily accident-prone few days.
When Middlesex batted first, 20 minutes elapsed before opening bowler Monde Zondeki, having delivered 13 balls, limped off with a groin strain never to bowl for the Bears again. After the rest of the attack – Naqaash Tahir, Jimmy Anyon, Jonathan Trott, Ian Salisbury, Darren Maddy and Ant Botha – restricted Middlesex to 297, on the second morning cane further accidents. Salisbury pulled a calf-muscle in the pre-match warm-ups. Then Maddy had his right thumb broken by a lifter from Tim Murtagh. Late in the day, with Maddy away at hospital, the crowd witnessed the strange spectacle of four batsmen at the crease as Zondeki and Salisbury batted with runners.
Amazingly, the resilient Bears still pushed hard for victory. They were lifted to 438 by Tony Frost (90), Salisbury (81), Botha (50) and Trott (50) and then had Middlesex vulnerable at 218 for seven, only 77 ahead, as Trott caused havoc with his astute variations of swing. Eoin Morgan and Shaun Udal dug in to see their side to a draw but the Bears had shown the depth of resolve which was to drive them to promotion that season and, four years later, to the championship.
Middlesex arrived at Edgbaston in 1978 with a team packed with internationals but were beaten by six wickets in a fascinating low-scoring match in which the decisive factor was a something of a rarity – Bob Willis blowing hot for his county.
During his long career, Willis was to take more five-wicket hauls for England than for Warwickshire as, by his own admission, he found the county circuit an at times uninspiring grind. But two of his five-fors for the Bears arrived in this game as, interest piqued by the challenge of high-quality opposition, he harvested match-figures of 11 for 83.
Willis’s first-innings six for 44, supported by Steve Rouse’s four for 63, rattled Middlesex out for 155, though that was enough for a first-innings lead after Wayne Daniel (five for 62) and John Emburey (three for 14) dismissed the Bears for 146 (Neal Abberley 61, Rouse 36).
Willis’s dander was up, though, and when Mike Brearley’s side went in again he was straight at them for five for 39. Eddie Hemmings added three wickets but Middlesex’s 169 meant that the Bears still had to score the highest score of the match – 179 – to win, on a difficult pitch.
In such conditions, the best and most skilful batsmen show their mettle – and Warwickshire had Dennis Amiss. He and Abberley (34) saw off a ferocious new-ball spell from Daniel to add 74 for the first wicket, Phil Oliver added a timely 25, and by the time Amiss fell for 74, having also negated the spin threat of Emburey and Phil Edmonds, his team was on the brink of a brilliant six-wicket victory.
Mo Sheikh’s first-class debut, Warwickshire v Middlesex in 1998, took some time to get going. The Birmingham-born all-rounder’s career opened in low-key style with a first-day washout. And the second day was heavily rain-affected.
But Sheikh’s career was to begin on a real high as the Bears still managed to force victory in the truncated fixture, even without resorting to any declarations.
Philip Clive Roderick Tufnell was the first first-class victim of Sheikh’s medium pace as Middlesex were bowled out for 221 (three wickets apiece for Dougie Brown and Graeme Welch and two for Allan Donald). When the Bears made only 158 (David Hemp 37), they were emphatically on the back foot, but Welch evened things up by running through Middlesex’s second innings.
‘Pop’ took five for 46 and Sheikh added a rather more illustrious victim to his account when he took the huge wicket of Jacques Kallis as Middlesex made only 132 despite Mark Ramprakash’s stubborn half-century.
Still, when the Bears embarked on their chase of 196, they were second favourites but that changed after openers Wasim Khan (29) and Neil Smith (60) added 67. Smith’s counter-attacking, 61-ball half-century transformed the tone and the flow of the match and after he perished, Andy Moles (67 not out) and Hemp (29 not out) saw their side to an eight-wicket win.