We’ve met before | Middlesex



As the County face up to life back in the top-tier of domestic County Cricket, we look back at some memorable matches from the past against opposition we are scheduled to meet in the forthcoming campaign.

In this feature, two glorious games with Middlesex fall under the spotlight.

Essex v Middlesex at Brentwood on 23, 24, 25 June 1962. Essex won by 10 wickets.

Middlesex 115 (BR Knight 6-50) & 334 (RW Hooker 102, WE Russell 80 WT Greensmith 8-116). Essex 425-7 dec (BR Knight 165, RAG Luckin 82, GJ Smith 56) & 27-0.

A recruit to the county this season was former England off-spin bowler Jim Laker. He had retired from the Surrey staff at the end of the 1959 season and went to play for Norton in the North Staffordshire and District League. Now 40, he had intimated that he would enjoy a return to the first-class game and Essex were able to negotiate a deal with the legendary bowler that would see him play as an amateur. It was to prove a successful relationship between club and player with Laker heading the bowling averages at the end of the season with 51 wickets to finish sixth in the national averages and higher than any of his off-spin successors in the England team.

However, he was not to prove so influential in this match when Essex were led by Ken Preston, deputising for Trevor Bailey who had split a finger when taking a catch in the previous match at Derby. Middlesex had won the toss and elected to bat but the fast pitch offering bounce caused all manner of problems for the visiting batsman with the last six wickets realising only 37 runs against the lively Barry Knight and medium-pacer Brian Edmeades. Seven batsman were dismissed for single figures whilst only Fred Titmus managed to exceed 16 runs for the discomforted visiting side as Knight took his tally of first-class wickets for the season to 50 when taking his fifth wicket.

The home side started their reply soon after lunch on the opening day and passed the Middlesex score with only three wickets down including a vigilant half-century from Geoff Smith although it did help to lay the foundations for a winning score. Essex then faltered to 162-5 before Knight again took centre-stage. Timing the ball to perfection and driving with impressive authority, he set a new personal best score and together with Roger Luckin, who also reached a career-best, the pair posted 206 for the sixth wicket to equal the figure set by J.W.H.T. (Johnny) Douglas and Jack O’Connor against Gloucestershire in 1923. Luckin was a youngster from Felsted School and showed superb technique with a penchant to play on the front foot and his contribution allowed the home side to declare with a lead of 310 runs and all recorded on the new mobile scoreboard which was to become a feature on all Essex festival grounds in the ensuing years.

Middlesex proved doughty fighters but leg-spinner Bill Greensmith was to grab the plaudits for his exploits during the visitors second innings. He wheeled away to telling effect mixing his leg breaks and googlies to claim 8 wickets for 116 that included his fiftieth first-class victim for the season whilst Laker managed just one wicket in 45 overs.  At one stage, Middlesex were 222-3 but Greensmith produced an incisive spell of 3 wickets for 5 runs removing Mike Smith, Fred Titmus and Bob White as the visitors slumped to 230-6 wickets.

At lunch they had moved onto 270-6 but Knight ended the valiant resistance of Ron Hooker, who had scored 102, when he was bowled. Useful contributions elsewhere in the order did however ensure that the home side would need to bat again. Requiring only 25 runs for victory, Essex completed the task inside 7 overs without losing a wicket and facing an old ball.

Highlighting the record equalling partnership between Barry Knight and Roger Luckin, The Times correspondent stated, “This was gay adventurous cricket and a crowd firmly behind Essex on the loveliest of grounds absorbed it all to the full stroke by stroke. It was a magnificent innings by Knight during which he collared all of the Middlesex bowlers in turn, none of whom will want to have too much to do with bowling figures. He hit 3 sixes and 24 fours in just under 3 hours.

“He is an invigorating cricketer because he plays his shots all the time and misses his fair share but as likely as not, he will hit the next ball for 4 or even 6 with considerable power and the highest degree of technical skill and beauty. One flashing cut was reminiscent of the flexible wrists of (Learie) Constantine. In this frame of mind, bowlers had no idea where to bowl to him.”

Essex v Middlesex at Chelmsford on 17, 18, 19 September 1991.  Essex won by an innings and 208 runs.

Middlesex 51 (NA Foster 4-18) & 307 (MA Roseberry 99, KR Brown 95, NA Foster 6-104).  Essex 566-6 dec (GA Gooch 259, Salim Malik 80, NV Knight 61, N Hussain 57).  

Essex went into their final match of the 1991 season knowing victory would see them win the Championship for the fifth time in their history after finishing runners-up in the two previous campaigns.

On a warm cloudless morning, Graham Gooch won the toss and opted to insert the opposition no doubt believing that the 10.30 a.m September start may offer some liveliness on a blameless pitch. It was a decision that was endorsed time and again as the visitors were shot out for 51 in just 103 minutes. So before lunch on day one, Gooch himself was striding to the wicket to orchestrate his team’s reply.

Middlesex’s first three wickets went down in the space of 12 balls, with the score stuck on five, as Neil Foster and Derek Pringle took advantage of movement off the seam. Eight runs were added before the fourth wicket fell and then the next three wickets all capsized with the total on 15. Neil Williams chanced his luck and was rewarded with 23 whilst Paul Farbrace scored 12 in a 25 runs partnership between the pair before ball took command over bat once more.

“Coming to Chelmsford with the chance of clinching the Championship was the ideal scenario,” Gooch said. “Our aim was to produce a wicket that gave a balance between bat and ball but as we had moved into September there was always the prospect of early movement. Having been docked points a couple of years previously, I was so concerned that I took Neil Foster off when we had them at 30-8 and brought on Steve Andrew! Any concerns about the pitch proved unfounded when we batted – there was nothing wrong with it!”

Gooch truly demonstrated that there were no vagaries in the pitch when he opened the Essex innings. Although John Stephenson and Paul Prichard fell for 18 and 11 respectively, Salim Malik struck three of the first five deliveries he faced to the boundary as he joined Gooch in a wonderful stand worth 182 in 31 overs before he was caught for 80 in the gully. Malik was enjoying a successful first season with the County and ended the campaign just 28 runs short of 2,000 runs in a scintillating campaign.

Although there was a brief moment of relief for the visitors with the capture of the imperious Malik’s wicket, there was no respite for Middlesex as Nasser Hussain joined his skipper to take the total to 385 for 3 at the conclusion of the opening day as Gooch reached an unbeaten double-century when he flat-batted a Mike Gatting long-hop to the boundary towards the close. The following day saw Gooch continue his remorseless destruction of the opposition attack and such was his authority that he straight drove fast bowler Norman Cowans to the boundary three times in one over. Eventually caught at the second attempt by Paul Weekes at long-off, Gooch’s memorable 245 spanned 380 balls and he hit two sixes and 37 fours as he dominated a huge Essex first innings.

Trailing by 515 runs, with two days and 52 overs remaining, there was to be no way back for the reigning champions who were set to lose their crown to a worthy Essex side. The relinquishing of the title appeared to be on course for an early exchange when opener Matthew Keech was the out to his first ball he faced against Foster and a two-day finish appeared possible when the right-arm paceman removed Middlesex skipper Mike Gatting and Mark Ramprakash in a hostile second spell. Rain and a stubborn fourth-wicket stand between Mike Roseberry and Keith Brown took the match into a third day although it merely delayed the inevitable merely delayed.

Roseberry and Brown carried their partnership to 112 before Pringle undid both in the space of nine deliveries. The England all-rounder had Brown caught by Hussain and shortly after, opener Roseberry with his score on 99, was hit on the toe, charged at the next ball and was caught slogging to slip. Victory – and the title – was achieved 25 minutes after lunch when Malik caught Dean Headley in the gully off Foster to give the bowler his sixth wicket of the innings and 10th of the match as the match was concluded  soon after .lunch on day three.

Having overseen two recent near-misses in the Championship, Gooch was relieved to have cause for celebration again when he addressed the crowd from the players’ balcony after the match. “I am a bit emotional actually,” Gooch stated. “It doesn’t often happen to me.”

Neil Foster called his 1991 campaign “the best season I ever had”. In a glittering career any year that eclipsed the rest needed to be something special. So it proved as the fast bowler and improving batsman took 91 wickets in the Championship @ 21.98 and also chipped in with a highly-useful 474 runs @ 29.63 with the bat.

Gooch was grateful to have enjoyed the services of such a performer during his time as Captain. “Neil Foster was a class act,” he acknowledged. “He was always managing his knee and was in a lot of pain towards the end of his career. He was a classical English bowler who was always asking questions of the batsman. He had a lovely action, bowled at a lively pace and was very accurate in getting the ball to move away from the batsman. Barring injury he would have played a lot more for England. Neil also captained the side that year (1991) so he was a big reason why we were successful.”