Middlesex v Leicestershire

Wednesday 14th July 2021 – The LV County Championship – Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood

Day three of the County Championship cricket week tour and it is time to head to Northwood for the final day of Middlesex’s tenancy at the very posh Merchant Taylors’ School, so posh in fact that it has its own micro-climate. With the game finely poised for a win for either side, I got my work tasks ticked off and headed to the very leafy suburbs of Northwood.

Middlesex have used two out grounds this year, Radlett and Merchant Taylors’ school. In previous seasons they have also paid visits to Southgate, Richmond and Uxbridge but with a very disjoined summer due to COVID, the launch of the Hundred and the international requirements of Lords, it was just the two this season.

With the impending launch of the Hundred, combined with the growing spectre again of COVID cases and self-isolation within the county squads, English cricket is in a difficult spot. The counties backed the new competition, The Hundred, starting next week, but now it has come around, they may feel the impacts of releasing players for the franchises – for instance, the already ravaged Kent squad will lose players to the competition, including to the Oval Invincibles who play their first game on the same day as Kent face Durham in the Royal London Cup. Hardly ideal to say the least.

This was the final day of the final round of county championship and with most of the positions in the tiered groups decided, these two sides, like Kent and Sussex the previous day, were fighting it out for the wooden spoon in Group 2. It was also one of the only games being played that hadn’t really been impacted by the weather or COVID.

The approach to the ground as you enter the school is down a long drive, with the cricket field in the distance. The vast grounds are overlooked on one side by the large houses on Sandy Lodge Lane, a gated road where the recycling bins included ones for John Lewis and Waitrose.

I brought the average age of the crowd down significantly when I took my seat, a pint of Taylor’s Ale in hand (brewed by a former pupil of the school no less in the chemistry lab, probably), waking up a few snoozing Middlesex fans enjoying the afternoon sunshine. Play had just resumed after lunch with the game potentially going one of three ways – so no real surprise there! Middlesex has been bowled out for 196 in their second innings leaving the visitors a target of 292 to win. They had lost a wicket – Evans falling to Murtagh in the 3rd over but had steadied the ship to 64-2 after 21 overs – a run rate of 3, not quite enough for victory in the remaining overs though.

The pace of Murtagh finally removed Ackermann with just 100 on the board and any hope of victory for Leicestershire evaporated. Now it was Middlesex’ attack against the clock. Whilst various parts around London clouded over and there was a threat of rain, the infamous school micro-climate ensured it was wall to wall sunshine. Not one, but two different people I spoke to mentioned said weather phenomenon and who was I to question what mad science had been going on in the labs at the school to create such a climate. We had cricket and sunshine, possibly the best combination in the world.

The Leicestershire wicketkeeper Inglis nudged past fifty and then became Murtagh’s third victim, caught behind by White. Six down, forty-ish overs to go. Next ball Parkinson’s middle stump was sent flying and the former England bowler was on a hatrick. Alas he didn’t get it but an eighth wicket fell just nine runs later when Barnes was LBW to Harris. The visitors lasted 14 more balls, with Harris completing victory by cartwheeling Sakande’s off stump.

The win wasn’t enough to take Middlesex off the bottom of Group 2 and they will now go into the third division along with Kent, Sussex, Worcestershire and Derbyshire when the competition restarts next month.

And so ends Merchant Taylors’ days in the sunshine for another year. Out Grounds may not have the impressive stands, the unobstructed views, the choice of food and drink and the transport connections but they do transport fans back into another age of the game, where a cheese and pickle sandwich, a pint of cask and the Times crossword act as a forerunner to a decent afternoon snooze and some even better cricket.

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