John Simpson celebrated his 28th birthday by helping Middlesex to a two-wicket Specsavers County Championship win against Somerset at Taunton after 96 runs had been needed off the final eight overs.
An enthralling game seemed to be heading for a draw when Tim Groenewald took four wickets to help restrict the visitors to 185 for five, chasing 302 to win.
But Simpson, with 79 not out off 80 balls, including four sixes and five fours, and James Fuller (36 off 18 balls) produced a stand of 86 off less than eight overs. Although Fuller fell, Middlesex wrapped up victory with just two balls to spare.
The winning hit was a six over fine leg by Simpson off Jim Allenby after eight had been needed from the final over.
Nick Gubbins contributed 76 to the run chase and, although Groenewald finished with five for 90, Middlesex took 23 points to Somerset’s three after four exceptional days of Championship cricket.
Set 302 to win from a minimum of 46 overs, the visitors were 108 for one in the 17th over when Overton took a stunning catch at third man to dismiss Dawid Malan (32). Gubbins had faced 70 balls when he miscued a back-foot shot off Groenewald to Allenby at deepish extra-cover.
When George Bailey was bowled by a perfect Groenewald inswinger for four it was 155 for four and Middlesex had to think twice about chasing a target of around seven an over.
Allenby cemented Groenewald’s good work with an economic spell from the River End, earning reward when pinning James Franklin lbw for 28. The departure of the skipper at 185 for five seemed to signal the end of Middlesex victory hopes. However, Simpson and Fuller changed all that. Leach struck twice in the closing overs to increase the tension, but it was Simpson’s day.
Earlier, the hosts had extended their second innings score from an overnight 348 for six to 446 for nine declared, Peter Trego making 138, three short of his best score on his 200th first class appearance. Groenewald and Leach also shared an unbroken tenth-wicket stand of 42, using up valuable time.
In fact, it produced a dramatic finish and Championship cricket at its best.
After the match Somerset Captain Chris Rogers said: “Naturally if you lose a game then of course there are regrets but if we are serious about wanting to win the title then we want to win games. You can’t just keep on playing out the draws and expect to be up there at the end.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We had them eight down and if the ball goes up in the air and you catch it then you are bowling to number 11 and you can win the game. The other thing is that we are here to provide entertainment so we play the game and play to win.”
“It would have been lovely to win it. We played a good brad of cricket but came up short, but we gave it everything and we have no regrets. We tried our hardest out there and we were not far off.
“I think that we are a pretty good side and if you look back I think we lost this game on day two when we had them eight down. We gambled on the pitch, with the best conditions to come, and a 20 run lead. If we can get a lead there, then we win the game but then Fuller came out and batted not like a number ten and James Harris did what he did. We just lacked a bit of firepower after losing Jamie Overton which hurt us in the first innings, but in the second we only had to bowl 46 overs and it was a gamble that didn’t come off.”
Talking about the five wicket man the skipper said: “Timmy Groenewald bowled a sensational spell in the context of the game. He kept going and going and I could tell how much he was hurting hence the reason why I took him off for a couple of overs. That didn’t work so I had to bring him back before I wanted to and he still did a great job. He gives everything he has when he walks over the line and as a captain there is just nothing you can ask more from a bowler.”