Middlesex secured a crucial Specsavers County Championship win over Warwickshire by one wicket amid scenes of the highest tension at sultry Edgbaston.
A career-best 45 (77 balls, five fours) from 22-year-old Ryan Higgins, playing only his third first-class match, saw his side most of the way to a target of 234.
He was eighth out with 24 still needed but last-wicket pair Tom Helm and Tim Murtagh found the seven runs required by the tenth wicket to see their side home to a victory which puts precious space between them and bottom-of-the-table Warwickshire.
For the champions, great relief and celebrations. For the home side, meanwhile, heartbreak – as they are left to contemplate a mountainous task ahead to avoid relegation with their woes compounded by a surprise win for fellow strugglers Somerset over Yorkshire at Scarborough .
After Middlesex began the day on 36 for two, they mustered a series of useful partnerships which together got an awkward job done – just! Nobody reached 50 but most got to double figures.
Overnight pair Nick Compton and Dawid Malan took the score to 54 before Malan (32, 55 balls, five fours) fell lbw to a Keith Barker in-ducker. George Panayi then ended Paul Stirling’s counter-attack (15 from 12 balls) with another lbw decision but Compton and John Simpson added 43 in ten overs.
Compton collected 49 from 99 balls, with five fours and a six, before he charged and missed at Jeetan Patel and was slickly stumped by Tim Ambrose.
Simpson and Higgins importantly saw their side through six overs up to lunch, at which Middlesex were 140 for five – 94 short. The sixth-wicket pair then continued to bat watchfully and took their alliance to 48 in 16 overs before Simpson (40, 87 balls, five fours) inside-edged Rikki Clarke on to pad and the ball looped to William Porterfield at gully.
At 170 for six, Middlesex still needed another 64 and Higgins and James Harris found 23 of them. Harris edged Boyd Rankin behind to spark Warwickshire hopes again and when Patel was brought back on and Harris bat-padded his first ball to short leg, Middlesex’s last two wickets had to find 24.
Ollie Rayner and Tom Helm collected 17. Then Rayner fell lbw to Rankin and last pair Helm and Tim Murtagh had to summon up seven. Amid scenes of excruciating tension they did so, Murtagh clubbing Rankin through the covers for a winning three before the teams left to a big ovation from spectators who had witnessed a wonderful final day’s play.
A compelling denouement is in prospect at Edgbaston where Middlesex will resume on the final morning of their crucial Specsavers County Championship tussle with Warwickshire on 36 for two, needing 234 to win.
After both teams totalled 334 in their first innings, the third day saw Jonathan Trott, captaining Warwickshire with Ian Bell sidelined by a sore elbow, prop up his side’s second innings with 99 (199 balls, six fours and a six).
Trott defied skilfully on a pitch offering some variable bounce and against a Middlesex attack which performed admirably to compensate for the absence of Steve Finn and Toby Roland-Jones. Tom Helm led the way with his maiden five-for, bowling with pace and aggression to take the first two wickets and the last three to end with five for 59.
Victory here would be a huge boost to either side in their survival battle, and the match is intriguingly poised going into the final day with all results still possible.
After Middlesex resumed on 302 for six, they added only another 32. Steve Eskinazi’s career-best 179 (243 balls, 24 fours, three sixes) was ended by Keith Barker’s first ball of the morning which knocked out off-stump.
Ollie Rayner played on to Barker before Rikki Clarke had Helm caught by Andy Umeed at first slip and Tim Murtagh caught behind.
Warwickshire’s second innings was quickly damaged by Helm whose excellent new-ball spell accounted for William Porterfield, caught at second slip, and Andy Umeed, lbw.
After Trott and Sam Hain (37, 62 balls, four fours) added 63, Middlesex struck twice again when Hain edged Ryan Higgins to second slip and Matt Lamb nicked James Harris behind.
That was 85 for four but Trott and Ambrose (44, 61 balls, three fours) knuckled down to add 94 in 23.3 overs before Ambrose fell lbw to Dawid Malan in the last over before tea.
Murtagh removed Clarke with a ball which exploded off a length and looped off the bat to gully. Barker clipped Malan to mid-wicket and then Helm returned to wrap up the tail with three wickets – Trott, who pulled a short ball straight to Nick Compton at mid-wicket, Jeetan Patel and George Panayi – in eight balls.
In 13 overs before the close, Middlesex lurched to one for two after Sam Robson fell lbw to Clarke, completing a pair, and Eskinazi edged Barker to Ambrose, but Malan and Compton saw it calmly through to the close.
Stevie Eskinazi’s fourth first-class century, a smorgasbord of the stubborn, the streaky and the stylish, underpinned a solid day’s work for Middlesex against Warwickshire in their Specsavers County Championship tussle at Edgbaston.
In reply to the home side’s 334, Middlesex closed the second day on 302 for six – a decent position from which to try to build a useful first-innings lead.
They owe that position almost exclusively to Eskinazi, their leading championship run-scorer this season, who ended the day unbeaten on a career-best 178 from 240 balls with 24 fours and three sixes.
With only bit-part support, the 23-year-old has single-handedly left his team eyeing a potential push for victory. At the very least he has kept them out of trouble in a match which bottom-of-the-table Warwickshire badly need to win to boost their slender hopes of avoiding relegation.
It was a far from faultless innings. Fortunate not to perish second-ball, Eskinazi played and missed at plenty and edged plenty more, but he also unfurled some splendid shots with his straight driving a particular treat.
All results remain possible. Whether either of these confidence-shorn sides can summon the power to force victory remains to be seen, but Eskinazi’s curate’s egg has at least left Middlesex with a chance of cooking up a win.
Warwickshire resumed on the second morning on 302 for seven and started crisply as Keith Barker and Jeetan Patel took the score to 330. But Tim Murtagh’s brilliant return catch to dismiss Barker (49, 87 balls, seven fours) triggered the loss of the last three wickets for four runs in 25 balls. George Panayi edged Tom Helm and Murtagh trapped Boyd Rankin lbw to finish with three for 85.
Middlesex’s reply began badly when Sam Robson fell lbw to Barker’s third ball. Nick Compton then retired hurt on 12, having taking a couple of painful blows on the knee, but Eskinazi and Dawid Malan (39, 62 balls, six fours, one six) added 89 in 22 overs before Malan tried to cut spinner Jeetan Patel’s second ball and nicked to wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose.
Compton then resumed his innings and ground his way to 33 in two hours before edging Rikki Clarke behind. Eskinazi motored on but his partners came and went. Paul Stirling lifted a wide ball from Rankin to Matt Lamb at point before Patel removed John Simpson, caught at short leg, and Ryan Higgins, caught-behind.
Rikki Clarke made a timely return to form with the bat as Warwickshire reached 302 for seven on the first day against Middlesex in the Specsavers County Championship match at Edgbaston.
Clarke was out in the final over of the day for a classy 83 (139 balls, nine fours, one six) having turned his team’s position from a troublesome one into one from which they will aim for a total which can put the visitors under pressure.
Middlesex’s depleted seam attack, missing Steve Finn (sore back) and Toby Roland-Jones (England duty), had bowled well as a unit to have the home side vulnerable at several points – 19 for two, 119 for four and 219 for six.
But on each occasion the killer thrusts eluded them as Warwickshire fought back, their resistance led first by Jonathan Trott (49, 103 balls, six fours) and 20-year-old Matt Lamb (51, 125 balls, five fours) and then by Clarke.
After Middlesex took up the option to bowl, they swiftly removed both openers. William Porterfield edged Tim Murtagh to wicketkeeper John Simpson then Andy Umeed fell to a third-slip catch by Steve Eskinazi off James Harris.
Trott, captaining the side with Ian Bell ruled out by a sore elbow, added 67 in 17 overs with Sam Hain before the latter (35, 62 balls, five fours) edged Ryan Higgins behind.
Trott looked in excellent nick but departed in curious fashion when he tried to fetch a pull from the off-side but instead sent the simplest of return catches to Tom Helm.
The impressive Higgins soon trapped Tim Ambrose lbw but Lamb, in good form having made 99 for Barnt Green against West Bromwich Dartmouth in the Birmingham League last Saturday, knuckled down to reach his maiden championship half-century in 120 balls.
It was a composed and impressively patient knock with his team under pressure, but he didn’t get much further. Middlesex skipper Dawid Malan turned to spinner Ollie Rayner who induced an edge to slip where Sam Robson took a fine catch, two-handed diving to his right.
That ended a stand of 78 in 23 overs between Lamb and Clarke and left Warwickshire 219 for six so further quick wickets would have given Middlesex control. But Keith Barker dug in alongside Clarke and the seventh-wicket pair saw off the old ball and scored crisply against to add 83 before Clarke fell lbw to Harris to the first ball of the final over of the day.