In the past 5 seasons three Middleton batsmen have scored centuries against the Min: Richard Simpson once and Nick Moorman twice. This week a new name can be added to the honours board, Harry Way, as he too found the Min’s attack to his liking.
With only five players on the ground and the knowledge that conceding runs was a habit of the Min, the visiting Captain, Richard Beswick opted to allow Middleton to bat first. It was a decision he may have been regretting when at 1.30 three players were still missing on route, including one of the opening bowlers.
The track looked dry and crumbly, with a suggestion that the spinners would prove hard to handle. It belied its looks and it was swing which caused opening batters Way and Tim Riley to begin watchfully. A few singles into the vacant gaps were all that were on offer until in the sixth over Way unveiled an on-drive which was to be the shot of the day. In celebration three fallow deer gambolled across the ground. The first hour passed in an accumulation of mostly ones, a few twos and a brace of galloped threes. The outfield was lush and only the best timed shots could reach the boundary.
In trying to accelerate, Riley fell to a stretching one handed catch at mid off just after the first 50 had ticked over. Recently recovered from a serious covid infection, Jay Mumtaz joined Way and in turn helped to add a second 50. Always looking for the attacking option he struck the ball well with his new M and H bat. Way began to gain control of the pace of the wicket, twice hitting sixes to the square leg boundary before reaching his half century with a cut to the third man boundary. The slow bowling of Iqbal proved too tempting for Mumtaz, who charged out to meet the pitch of the ball, but who failed to make contact. The finger of Mike Simpson, standing at square leg was raised in slow execution.
Mark Ford-Langstaff took two from his first ball, but saw the executioner's finger raised as he was trapped right in front of the stumps from his third ball. Ben Breaker came out to join Way and became the third Middleton batter to participate in a half century stand. Both batsmen grew in confidence as the bowling attack tired. Breaker fed the strike to Way with a series of neatly placed strokes through cover and mid off, and Way approached his century as the clock neared tea time. There were no nervous nineties, just a confident approach to the milestone and then a few flurries before Brian Dipple, first half umpire called proceedings to a halt.
The rest of the Dipple family provided a feast for tea, many thanks to Judith and Brian, and for Matt for volunteering them. Brian had to depart so Seril Shah took over umpiring duties, while Chris Geer kept tally of the score. As ever the players are grateful to the people who give up their time to help the day run so smoothly.
Matt Dipple and Asif Kamal took the new ball. The Middleton bowlers did not get the swing that the Min openers had found, but did bowl a tidy line and found a little movement off the seam. Asif struck early, bowling Earney, whose cover drive for 4 in the previous over of Dipple’s had looked ominous. The Min now had their best phase of the game, Middleton’s fielding was lack-lustre at best, Richard Beswick was timing the ball nicely, bringing one teeth saving stop from Mumtaz at cover. Tim House took over from Asif, bowling from the church end and looked likely to take a wicket but somehow didn’t and Max Nalborczyk took over from Dipple.
“A Wicket is coming” said Simpson from first slip. Next ball the edge was found, the ball went unerringly toward the mind reading off spinner and from his hands down onto the turf. The final twenty overs were imminent, The Min would need a further 125 runs with nine wickets in hand and the game was on.
Nalborczyk found the perfect delivery, swinging just enough to beat the bat, but not too much to miss the stumps and Beswick was gone. Opener, Carroll was looking to press on and with help from Gorner kept The Min just in with a chance. Wise heads suggested that attacking batters were waiting to come in. Just the moment to introduce the mind-reader to bowl. A little rusty in his first over he struck for the first time in his second as Carroll top edged a sweep to the keeper. Roy Damaze was tempted by the flight and deceived by the guile to be bowled but time ticked on and six further wickets were needed.
Dipple returned to dismiss a second Beswick with a delivery that kept low. It was one bit of luck for Dipple who several times looked to have bowled wicket taking deliveries, only for the batter to inside edge just past the leg stump. A draw looked inevitable as Gorner played patiently, keeping Middleton at bay. With five overs remaining and five wickets to get Simpson finally tempted a false shot from Gorner. Umpire Shah raised his finger to the surprise of the batter and the delight of the bowler. Three balls later the same deadly pair combined, with the plumbest of LBWs.
The Min’s number 9, Wigg made his intentions clear. The game would be saved, no risks would be taken. Time was all but gone when the Captain threw in his wild card. Stevyn Jackson was to bowl the final over. Wicketless for a decade surely this wild card was too wild.
After a first ball no - ball, Jackson had Middleton thinking once again of a win. Somehow he induced Majvid to drag a wide ball onto his stumps. Five balls to get two wickets.
Alas victory was just out of reach, although Jackson picked up a second wicket in the over, clean bowling Casey.
Hands were shaken and the teams retired to bar and barbeque, honours even, to talk of what might have beens and what is yet to comes.