A 98-ball marathon from Beth Dodd took Essex to an upset victory over much-fancied Middlesex on the opening day of Div 2 of the Women’s County Championship at Chelmsford.
On a gorgeously sunny Easter Sunday at the County Ground, Essex won the toss and elected to bowl on the same pitch these sides’ respective men’s teams had hit nearly 700 runs on in a Royal London Cup game just two days before.
Middlesex openers Cordelia Griffith and Naomi Dattani made a steady start, moving to 45-0 after 10 overs, as Essex seamer Grace Poole bowled well with no luck – passing the edge several times in the powerplay.
A loose over costing 17 runs from the tiring Poole then allowed Dattani to race ahead, with the Middlesex captain reaching her fifty off 48 balls in the 14th over.
The breakthrough for Essex came of the last ball of the 14th over – Griffith brilliantly caught by former Middlesex player Cath Dalton at cover, bringing Sophia Dunkley to the crease for her first Middlesex knock since she became an England player at the World Twenty20 in November.
After a couple of close calls between the sticks, Dattani’s luck ran dry as she was run out by a direct hit from Poole for 57 off 56 balls.
New batsman Beth Morgan quickly followed in the most unfortunate fashion – run out at the non-striker’s end, after Anje Lague put down a fairly straightforward caught-and-bowled chance from Dunkley which then ricocheted onto the stumps, with the umpire adjudging that Morgan was out of her ground at the point of impact.
Lague made better work of her next caught-and-bowled opportunity, sending Emma Albery back to the pavilion for a 6-ball duck, as the visitors began to falter to 104-4 and then 107-5 as Dunkley was given out for 20, caught off what she was clearly convinced was a bump-ball.
Middlesex keeper Iqraa Hussain hung around for 28 balls for 16, before popping up a 3rd catch of the innings to Dalton, as Middlesex’s lower order crawled onward, passing 150 for the loss of 8 wickets in the 37th over.
Middlesex were eventually bowled out for 160, with Kelly Castle picking up 3-16 off 4 overs at the end, including a lovely caught-and-bowled to dismiss Rebecca Tyson – the last wicket to fall for 5.
Despite having not batted, Middlesex’s Katie Wolfe was soon into the action with the ball – opening the bowling, as she took advantage of new regulations which allow all 12 named players to be interchanged freely in and out of the on-field eleven.
First blood however went to Middlesex’s other opening bowler – Gaya Gole, who bowled Kelly Castle off an inside edge for 7 with 12 on the board.
Having negotiated the powerplay to take Essex to 32-1 at 10 overs, the two Beths – Harmer and Dodd – began to play a few shots, keeping well on top of the required rate, which soon fell to a strollable 3-an-over, with Middlesex needing wickets to stay in the game.
It was Naomi Dattani who provided the breakthrough – Harmer bowled for 29, trying to hoik the deceptively quick Dattani across the line.
Dodd however remained rooted to the crease, taking Essex past the 100 mark in 25 overs, together with Cath Dalton who maintained a Strike Rate of 100 despite largely playing second-fiddle to Dodd as the partnership built past 50.
With just 32 needed by Essex for the win, Dattani brought herself back into the attack with immediate results – bowling Cath Dalton for 34 with the first ball of her new spell.
Dodd’s marathon innings then finally ended after 98 balls, caught by Rebecca Tyson off Dunkley for 46; and Middlesex saw a chink of light as Megan Janman was run out shortly afterwards for 1, with 26 still required.
But while wicket-keeper Scarlett Hughes blocked for her life at one end, Jess Bird picked up where Dodd had left off – letting the runs find her as the target was slowly but surely whittled away – Bird finishing on 17, and Hughes on 7, as Essex reached their objective in 42.3 overs to set the early pace in Div 2.