Tymal Mills took a competition-best 4 for 22 and Luke Wright hit 47 from 33 balls as Sussex Sharks swept to the top of the NatWest T20 Blast’s South Group by thumping Middlesex by seven wickets on a beautiful summer’s evening at Lord’s.
Wright was joined in a decisive second wicket stand of 75 in 8.4 overs by Matt Machan, who scored 30 from 22 balls to help Sussex make light work of hunting down Middlesex’s inadequate total of 133 for eight. Victory, Sussex’s sixth in ten group games, arrived with 4.4 overs to spare.
A worn, tired pitch meant there was little in the way of big-hitting entertainment for a crowd of more than 16,000, although Wright and Machan did their best as they led Sussex’s chase with a sensible mix of shot-making and picking up regular ones and twos.
Craig Cachopa then swept Ravi Patel’s left-arm spin for successive sixes in the 13th over, contributing an unbeaten 24 from 17 balls as Sussex closed quickly on their modest target.
Chris Nash struck the first two balls of the Sussex reply for four, off Ollie Rayner, but was leg-before for 12 to Mitchell McClenaghan’s second ball for Middlesex and the New Zealand left-arm fast bowler made an excellent debut for the county by taking 3 for 24 from his four overs.
McClenaghan, indeed, dismissed both Wright and Machan with consecutive balls, the last of his third over and the first of his fourth, but not even that double-strike could drag Middlesex back into contention on another miserable T20 night for them.
By then Wright had hit James Franklin for three fours in an over, straight driven Patel for six and signed off by lofting McClenaghan straight and extra cover driving the next ball also for four immediately before top-edging an attempted pull to mid on.
Machan, who bludgeoned 14 runs from Harry Podmore’s first over in the initial Powerplay, was leg-before to McClenaghan but by then the platform had been set for Cachopa and George Bailey, who finished 16 not out, to finish the job.
Middlesex’s confidence in the T20 format is as low as it has ever been. This was their seventh defeat in nine games this season, they are rock bottom of the South Group table for the second summer in a row, and they never looked capable of posting a challenging total here.
There was a brief early flurry from Paul Stirling, who flat-batted Tymal Mills over cover for six in the fourth over and then hit Chris Liddle through the covers and over mid off’s head for fours in the next, but on 23 Stirling mishit Mike Yardy’s left-arm darts to short fine leg and, after that, not even Eoin Morgan could resurrect the innings.
Morgan, England’s one-day captain, hit only two fours – both off leg spinner Will Beer in the eighth over – as he struggled to 27 off 29 balls before thin-edging an attempted cut at Steffan Piolet to Cachopa behind the stumps.
Middlesex’s innings had begun badly, with the fit-again Dawid Malan slapping the seventh ball of the match, from Mills, straight to third man and then Nick Compton playing on as he aimed a pull at the same bowler from the first ball of the left-arm paceman’s second over.
A sorry-looking 12 for two became 36 for three when Stirling perished, and John Simpson could not believe what he had done when he swung a round-arm, non-spinning off break from Matt Machan straight into the hands of deep mid wicket at 72 in the 11th over.
Machan and Yardy, with their similar low-slung styles, stifled Middlesex’s run-rate in the middle overs and Franklin, in at number six, could not find the boundary even once before being run out for a 30-ball 26 when trying to pinch a second run for a bottom-edged hoick to fine leg.
Andrew Balbirnie did manage to find consecutive fours off Liddle in the 19th over, the first a top-edged scoop over the keeper’s head and the second sliced to third man, but he was held on the deep mid wicket rope after scoring 18 in a battling 38-run stand in 5.1 overs with Franklin.
McClenaghan hit his first ball to deep cover in a frantic final over, and the Middlesex innings featured just eight fours and a six – illustrating how difficult it was to play expansive shots on the turgid surface. Not that Wright, Machan and Cachopa found it that hard.
Sussex captain Luke Wright said: “I’m delighted with that win. After four games of this group stage we down at the bottom of the table, but things can change quickly in Twenty20. We bowled exceptionally well and we wanted to bowl first which is why I put them into bat.
“We left out Ollie Robinson, which was tough on him as he was our top wicket-taker in the competition so far, but it proved right to bring Steffan Piolet in because he bowls his seamers slower and on that pitch we felt this was the way to go.
“Tymal has got pace and a good slower ball and gets the best players out regularly, and he bowled excellently as did our spinners. Matt Machan doesn’t bowl that often but he did well with his off spin and also hit a nice cameo of 30 so he had a good game.
“Chris Nash got us off to a quick start and we wanted to show intent and play some strong shots in the Powerplay. We knew if we got away in the first six overs it would be difficult to lose from there, and that’s how it proved.”
Eoin Morgan, the Middlesex captain, said: “We were twenty runs short, at least, and the pitch was very slow which made it tough to get going. Mills was impressive, and showed tonight he has something about him.”
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