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Spitfires crash again at Lord’s
Spitfires crash again at Lord’s

Joe Cracknell and John Simpson put together a shrewd partnership of 91 as Middlesex snapped their six-match Vitality Blast losing streak, defeating South Group stragglers Kent Spitfires by seven wickets.

Cracknell, with an unbeaten 43 from 37 balls, and Simpson (46 from 35) shared the only sizeable stand of a low-scoring game to set up Middlesex’s triumph with 15 deliveries to spare.

Defending champions Kent, who languish at the foot of the table, limped to 141 for nine after opting to bat, stifled during the middle overs by Middlesex’s spin trio of Chris Green, Thilan Walallawita and Luke Hollman.

Although the Spitfires gained a glimmer of hope with two wickets in quick succession, the third-wicket pair batted sensibly to extinguish that and keep Middlesex’s faint hopes of qualification alive.

Joe Denly, whose century had underpinned the Spitfires’ first success of the tournament when the sides met at Canterbury, lasted only 10 deliveries before he was caught behind swishing at Tom Helm.

Opening partner Zak Crawley – returning to the side in between his England Test duties – soon followed, attempting to hook Martin Andersson and John Simpson judged the skier perfectly.

Questionable shot selection, combined with tidy bowling by the Middlesex spinners, meant wickets continued to fall regularly, although for a while it seemed Sam Billings might steer Kent out of trouble.

The skipper survived a series of close calls – including two catches that fell fractionally short of the fielder and Andersson’s shy at the stumps as he changed his mind over an audacious single – to make 29.

However, Billings perished reverse-sweeping Hollman into the hands of point and it wasn’t until the 17th over that Kent registered the only six of their innings as Jack Leaning clipped Jason Behrendorff into the Mound Stand.

Despite Leaning’s effort of 20 from 14, the visitors’ total looked unlikely to be enough and Middlesex made a steady start in reply, with Stephen Eskinazi and Max Holden putting on 42 from 28.

Eskinazi (28 from 15) had just swung Fred Klaassen for his second six when he attempted to repeat the shot and top-edged to deep midwicket, but the captain’s departure appeared to reduce the flow of runs to a trickle.

Spin duo George Linde and Qais Ahmad rattled through six consecutive post-powerplay overs, all of them without conceding a boundary as Cracknell and Simpson concentrated on avoiding risks and collecting singles.

Once the seamers returned, Cracknell cast off the shackles, pulling Klaassen over the fence and then cutting him square for four more as Middlesex began to accelerate towards the target.

Simpson swatted Klaassen for six to bring his side within four but, although the seamer took his revenge by trapping him leg before, Jack Davies squirted his first ball to the rope, sealing a rare victory.

Kent head coach Matt Walker said: 

“It’s a similar performance to a number of games. We never got going in the powerplay and then got stuck in the middle.

“I thought they bowled well in that stage and we just couldn’t get a partnership going. To get ourselves up to 141 was a decent effort in the end but we knew we were 20-30 runs short.

“It was going to take everything to go absolutely perfect for us to defend that. I thought we bowled well in parts but we needed early wickets in the first six overs. They didn’t come and they got a partnership going, which made it fairly straightforward.

“The confidence is down, you can see that from the performance. People are lacking belief in their own game and that shows – we haven’t got the burst of self-belief we had last year and that’s off the back of losing games of cricket.”

Middlesex spinner Chris Green, who took two for 18, said:

“We can play with freedom and that’s what we did today – we attacked the opposition with the ball and lots of different players put their hands up.

“When the conditions have suited spin, we haven’t been able to execute to our best, so it was nice for the three of us to step up. It was pretty close to the complete bowling performance – the seamers up top, the spinners through the middle and the group that bowled at the back end as well.

“We took our chances and put pressure on the opposition and that’s what we want to do going forward.

“It was a tough wicket and Kent have two good overseas spinners, but the way the two of them (Cracknell and Simpson) absorbed that pressure, they weren’t worried too much about that rate getting up at times and they took down the bowling to get the win for us.”