When it comes to taking on Middlesex in the County Championship, Northamptonshire supporters with very long memories might just be grateful that it’s happening at all.
Our county achieved first-class status way back in 1905 – but it wasn’t for another quarter-of-a-century that the two sides met in a competitive fixture. It’s probably fair to say that Middlesex were in no rush to play us…
Back then – before the computer took over – individual counties were able to pick and choose their opponents, subject to a minimum requirement. But in 1930 the MCC altered the Championship rules, ensuring that every team met every other one in the course of two or three seasons. In that first summer of the tweaked format, Northamptonshire gained fixtures against Middlesex and Hampshire at the expense of Gloucestershire and neighbours Warwickshire.
But Middlesex (and others) were not particularly chuffed about the change which, they felt, jeopardised traditional and popular matches on the list. In the event, they managed to ‘avoid’ Northamptonshire in 1933, 1935 and 1938 – but didn’t do so again until the introduction of two divisions in 2000.
When Bill Edrich brought his side to the old Crawthorne Road ground at Peterborough in 1953 the result was a thrilling finish, which owed something to a spot of ‘creative accounting.’
Middlesex opener Jack Robertson reckoned he’d been deprived of a couple of runs in the first innings and the scorers admitted they had been unsighted by spectators milling around in front of the box. So Northamptonshire skipper Freddie Brown agreed to add two runs to Robertson’s score when the visitors batted again.
Needing 227 to win, Brown’s men were 225 for seven with Des Barrick going well. At which point the last three wickets fell for a single run – match tied.
“What do we do about those two runs now?” Edrich asked. “Let it stand as we arranged,” replied Brown. “But for heaven’s sake let’s keep quiet about it for a while!”
In 1976 Middlesex and Northamptonshire finished as champions and runners-up respectively, and their early-season meeting at Lord’s was a topsy-turvy affair. David Steele’s superb century gave the County a commanding lead before Middlesex hit back strongly, and Mushtaq had to block out the last 20 overs with an injured hand to save the match.
A better result for Northamptonshire over those three days in May – and who knows how the table might have looked come September?
Middlesex had an outside chance of another title in 1994 and came to Wantage Road needing a win. But Mike Gatting’s ‘speculate-to-accumulate’ declaration backfired as Rob Bailey and Kevin Curran powered Northamptonshire home off the last possible ball of a memorable game.
As he left the field, Gatting may not have appreciated the vote of thanks offered by Northamptonshire’s public address announcer for a “sporting declaration!”.
A year later, both teams were in the shake-up for Championship honours – only for a batsman-friendly pitch at Uxbridge to condemn the match to a predictable draw that helped hand the pennant to Warwickshire.
Northamptonshire v Middlesex – First Class Record
Won by Northamptonshire: 21
Won by Middlesex: 43
Last Time Out
Middlesex triumphed by 31 runs at Wantage Road last August despite an outstanding first-innings knock of 140 from Ricardo Vasconcelos – his maiden Championship hundred. Northamptonshire enforced the follow-on but then collapsed to Tim Murtagh and Ethan Bamber in search of 216 for victory on the final afternoon.
Play in the opening match of our 2019 Specsavers County Championship season starts at 11am tomorrow, tickets are available online or at the gate.