Sep 15 2011 By Jon Batham
Gareth Berg Image 1
MIDDLESEX VS LEICESTERSHIRE – DAY FOUR Leicestershire 319 & 306 Middlesex 502 & 127-5 Middlesex won by five wickets
MIDDLESEX were crowned Second Division champions on the final day of the season at Leicester – but they exercised their right to put supporters through the emotional wringer first.
Chasing 124 for victory and the title, the visitors were cruising at 57-0 only to lurch to 90-5 in the face of a fine spell from Wayne White
With both their promotion rivals Surrey and Northants having won 24 hours earlier, at that stage Middlesex were 34 runs from being champions or the oblivion of missing promotion altogether.
However, John Simpson and Gareth Berg (pictured) proved the men for the crisis to see their side over the line and send them back to the County Championship’s top table for the first time since 2006.
Back at the start of the day Leicester were 222-7, just 39 runs ahead with first innings centurion Ned Eckersley and Jigar Naik at the crease.
There was no early breakthrough for the champions elect as the hosts carried the score to 255 and the lead to 72 before Corey Collymore trapped Naik LBW for 22.
Eckersley, however, continued the resistance hoisting Jamie Dalrymple for six over mid-on to take the lead past 100.
The youngster from Ealing Cricket Club, given his chance by the retirement of Paul Nixon, went on to raise his half century, finding a willing partner in Nathan Buck
However, having reached his landmark from 98 balls, he immediately holed out to Berg at deep mid-off from the first ball of Ollie Rayner’s new spell. Rayner returned 4-43 his best figures for the county.
Buck followed soon afterwards, edging Steven Crook to slip and the chase began.
For half an hour before lunch Sam Robson and England captain Andrew Strauss gorged on some buffet bowling from Buck and Wyatt to knock off 44 of the runs required.
After lunch they reached 57 with few alarms before Robson was trapped LBW by Naik for 32. There seemed no cause for alarm until England captain Andrew Strauss, having just survived a huge LBW shout from White, pulled recklessly at the very next ball and edged a catch to Eckersley behind the stumps.
Now the nerves surfaced as stand-in skipper Chris Rogers called Dawid Malan for a tight single, then changed his mind, leaving the left-hander to be run out at the bowler’s end by Greg Smith’s direct hit.
That was 71-3 and it wasn’t long before White (3-36) in an inspired post-lunch spell pinned Jamie Dalrymple LBW for just three, knocking him right off his feet in the process. And when Rogers slashed the Foxes’ quick to Smith at backward point Middlesex had lost five wickets for 33 in 11 overs.
The situation called for character and Simpson and Berg provided it. The wicketkeeper, who has proved a man for a crisis more than once this year, played three glorious square cuts and got two more streaky fours off thin edges to third man as the title came tantalizingly within reach.
It was left to Berg the first innings centurion, only just back from three months of injury, to clinch victory, hitting Naik for six, four and six off successive balls.Cue the champagne corks.