Middlesex 229 for 9 (Eskinazi 87, Higgins 3-32) beat Gloucestershire 199 for 9 (Howell 46, Andersson 3-33) by 30 runs
Eskinazi’s 87 from 37 balls was in keeping with his T20 form last season when he topped Middlesex’s averages with a respectable strike rate of 140. That return has not been good enough to win him a deal in the Hundred, perhaps because even when he is flying there is no real power in his game, just a sense of abandon which brings the suspicion that he could come to grief at any moment. The thing is, though, these days he rarely does.
Morgan has his reasons, and his England career appears to be approaching its end, but it is sad, nevertheless, when the Blast cannot benefit from as many of its star England attractions when they are not involved in an international schedule. His justification is to protect his fitness, at 35, and so maximise his chances of leading England in the T20 World Cup in Australia, beginning in October. It is not yet known whether he will adopt a similarly cautious approach during the Hundred, where at the moment he retains the captaincy of London Spirit. In a tournament he champions, he will be more anxious to take the risk.
Middlesex are short of energy in the middle-order and so will struggle to disguise Morgan’s absence. But for the moment, at Radlett, where they seem very much at home, things went perfectly. It might appear to be unjustifiably downbeat to suggest that Middlesex were not entirely content with their record score in T20 cricket, but they probably had visions of a few more when they were 122 for 2 after 8.5 overs.
Their first win against Gloucestershire in 14 attempts – an extraordinary run – and only their third of all time, just added to their contentment. There was another Middlesex record, too, 89 in the Powerplay, against a one-dimensional Gloucestershire attack, until they took pace off the ball, added variety and succeeded in damage limitation.
From the moment Eskinazi cover drove David Payne’s first ball, a half volley, to the boundary, he took full toll of some inviting new-ball bowling. Anything a touch short was heartily pulled. His excellent placement on a rapid Radlett outfield was too much for Gloucestershire’s outfielders, who contributed a couple of misfields on the rare occasions they got close enough to the ball. Considering that Benny Howell and Ryan Higgins bowled five of their eight overs while Eskinazi was unstoppable, their joint figures of 4 for 65 were quite something.
He fell in the 12th over, Naseem Shah having him caught at third man as he tried to ramp a slow bouncer. There had been useful support acts, too, from Max Holden, another conventional batter beginning to find a T20 personality, and the more audacious James Cracknell, who played on against a slower ball from Howell as Gloucestershire added belated craft to their game.
“My confidence in this format has been going for the last two or three years,”Eskinazi said. “I know my game – I’m not the biggest hitter in the world but I understand how to negotiate a ground like this and know good cricket shots should give me value. We were on for 300 at one stage! But we’re going to have to be patient as a side and fans are going to have to be patient as well, because not every game’s going to go to plan like today did.”
As if to prove as much, Eskinazi’s departure caused tremors, with five wickets falling for 22. Morgan’s conservative knock of 41 from 24 was required to hold the innings together. His stooping forward-scoop to long-off was intercepted on the run by Miles Hammond, who did much to rally Gloucestershire’s fielding standards.
Gloucestershire were never in the hunt with the bat. Chris Green, luminous green boots, luminous golden tan, began with five leg-side wides, but it turned out to be the precursor to bowling James Bracey around his legs. Luke Hollman struck twice in his first two overs, including the dangerous Kiwi, Glenn Phillips, who fell to a composed catch by Toby Roland-Jones just inside the long-on boundary.
As they had with the ball, Higgins and Howell put up resistance with the bat. A few more blows threatened the car park which at Radlett is disturbingly close. Presumably, windscreen insurance claims tell of pebbles springing up from the A41. Gloucestershire got as close as they imagined they might and they were still 30 short when it all ended.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps