Middlesex settle for a share of the spoils with Kent

Middlesex's Sam Robson (pic: John Walton/PA)

Middlesex's Sam Robson (pic: John Walton/PA) - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Middlesex and Kent shared the Bob Willis Trophy spoils in Canterbury despite a late declaration that gave the dominant visitors a glimmer of hope at pulling off a fourth-day upset.

As it was, Kent’s unlikely pursuit if 248 ended just after 5pm with the hosts on 70 without loss and with first-bumps all-round – no handshakes allowed under Covid-19 protocols – to mark the draw.

Having shot out their south group hosts for a modest 191 at the start of the day, Middlesex had set about extending their 78-run first-innings lead through openers Sam Robson and Max Holden.

Accelerating after the lunch interval, they posted a 50 stand from 82 balls forcing Kent skipper Sam Billings to go on the defensive with his field placings in order to stem the run rate.

Robson should have gone for 23 but his edged cut against Fred Klassen was downed by Billings stationed at sole slip.

In slowing the over rate and stemming the flow of runs, Kent hoped to reduce the likelihood of Middlesex snatching a last gasp win. Even so, Holden reached a half-century off 60 balls with six fours and celebrated with a straight six off spinner Marcus O’Riordan.

The century opening stand came up in the 25th over and Robson posted his maiden 50 of the Trophy campaign from 96 balls and with four boundaries.

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With the lead already over 200, the first-wicket stand ended for 143 when Holden, on 72, sliced an attempted lofted drive against O’Riordan to Denly at extra cover.

Inexplicably, Robson barely picked up the pace thereafter and had reached 82 not out from 143 when the players went in at tea. With his side 247 ahead, Stevie Eskinazi declared late in the interval, asking Kent to chase a nominal target of 248 in 32 overs at an asking rate of 7.75/over.

Batting again by 4.05pm, Kent resisted tinkering with the order or attempting any suicidal pursuit, allowing Daniel Bell-Drummond and O’Riordan to successfully see off the new ball bursts of Miguel Cummins and Ethan Bamber on what was a flat, fourth-day pitch.

O’Riordan reached a career-best 34 not out and Bell-Drummond was unbeaten on 31 when the status quo was formally agreed just after 5pm and with 18 of the scheduled overs remaining.

Kent had started the final day on 146 for five in their first innings and trailing in the match by 123 runs, but conspired to lose their last five wickets for 23 runs in the space of 11 overs with Cummins taking five for 62.

In his warm-up over the Bajan dangerman allowed Kent’s night watchman Matt Milnes to clip two leg-side fours to move smoothly into double figures. But, with his score on 16, Milnes went back in defence to the speedy West Indian and dragged the ball onto off stump.

Joe Denly moved to within 11 runs of a century when his near three-and-a-half hour stay with 14 fours came to a surprise end. Shouldering arms to a James Harris off-cutter, Denly appeared bemused when the ball grazed off stump to dislodge one bail.

Four runs later, Darren Stevens meekly followed a Martin Andersson away-swinger to steer the ball off the bat face to second slip with a shot more akin to pre-match slip-catching practise.

Three balls later, Grant Stewart, in aiming to leg against Harris, looped a chance to point off a leading edge to be well caught, overhead by a leaping Max Holden.

Cummins returned to claim his fifth wicket by dismissing Hamidullah Qadri from a sliced, back-foot steer caught at third slip, and ensure Kent missed out on a batting bonus point by nine runs.

Cummins, easily the fastest of the bowlers on display here, finished with five for 62, his best figures for Middlesex and for the past three seasons, while Andersson and Harris bagged two apiece.