TOM Smith admits Middlesex’s Twenty/20 campaign will be over before it has really begun if they lose to Hampshire tonight.
Yesterday’s 11-run defeat at the hands of Sussex Sharks at Lord’s followed their opening night loss to Surrey on Thursday.
And with the tournament having been shortened this year from 16 matches to just 10, spinner Smith’s candid assessment is should tonight’s clash with the Hawks at the Ageas Bowl go the same way then Middlesex will be killing time until they can get back to County Championship action.
He said: “Hampshire is a crunch game. If we get a win there and you get some momentum you can suddenly see things happening, but the last thing we need is to lose three out of three because suddenly you are just playing for nothing.
“It is a shame with the 10 games because with 16 you always had a chance if you got on a run of three or four wins to be right up there. With 10 and with the weather the way it is you could easily get two rained out and suddenly the campaign has gone.”
Just as with the defeat to the Brown Caps 72 hours earlier, the Sharks clash was one which got away from the hosts at the last after they twice carved out a winning position. After losing the toss (again) the hosts reaped early rewards in the ‘Power-play’ overs as Steven Crook struck twice and Gareth Berg once to reduce Sussex to 26-3.
And when Smith turned one between Joe Gatting’s bat and pad to bowl him for 11 the Sharks were deep in the mire at 56-4 in the 10th over.
It needed their two experienced campaigners Murray Goodwin and Middlesex old-boy Scott Styris to repair the damage, adding 56 before the former was bowled by Toby Roland-Jones for 43.
New Zealander Styris was then given a life when Dawid Malan dropped a difficult chance at deep mid-off and celebrated the reprieve by pulling Crook into the Compton stand for 6 as 16 runs came from the 18th over of the innings.
However, he too fell short of 50 when the impressive Roland-Jones (2-19) had him taken by Berg at mid-off.
With a target of 144, Dawid Malan and Joe Denly struggled to find the boundary early on and the frustration got to the latter when he caught at mid-on off an ugly slog.
The mercurial Paul Stirling soon followed to an even worse shot and when with the run-rate climbing Malan holed out in the deep for 38 Middlesex were well behind the clock.
Eighty-one were needed from the last eight overs, but skipper Neil Dexter and Gareth Berg rallied the panthers once more.
Dexter hit a six into the Compton stand while Berg launched another to within inches of a maximum in the course of a 50 partnership which carried the hosts to 37 required from four overs with seven wickets in hand.
However, Berg skied a catch to Chris Nash off Chris Liddle (5-17), who went on to claim the wickets of Dexter (36), John Simpson and Chris Rogers in his next over as Middlesex collapsed tamely to defeat. It was a loss which had a somewhat bewildered Smith looking for answers.
He added: “It was a tough pitch and they definitely had the best of the conditions but that is no excuse. From watching their spinners and Liddle bowling a lot of cutters at the end I think the pitch got a bit slower and lower as the game went on, so the ball would die and it looked hard work to score.
“Having said that we got back to 37 needed off four overs with seven wickets left and you would definitely win from there more often than not. I looked at the first game and where we lost it was we had no wickets left in the hutch at the end, so it was one of our plans to leave ourselves a few more to get with some wickets intact and we were in a great position, so I don’t really have a reason why we have lost it – I’m scratching my head a bit really.”