In what will almost certainly be the last ever County Championship match for both sides, due to the ECB’s planned restructure of domestic cricket from next season, Berkshire fell an agonising 20 runs short of their target at Mill Hill School to finish the season as Division 2 runners up.
They were beaten into second place by Division 2 champions Middlesex, who took a late flurry of wickets – Katie Wolfe finishing with 3-12 across her 10 overs – to bowl their opponents out and finish a mere four points ahead in the final standings.
The match was also notable for what may well be the last ever 50-over innings in top level cricket from England legend Beth Morgan, who becomes the only player ever to have featured in every season of the Women’s County Championship (which has run since 1997).* Morgan additionally took a crucial catch at mid-off to see off Berkshire’s top-scorer, Emily Cunningham, setting off the batting collapse which ultimately cost the Beavers the game.
Berkshire had started their chase slowly but steadily, reaching just 16-0 off the first 10 overs but achieving their initial aim of seeing off twin pacers Wolfe and Gaya Gole.
With Lissy Macleod joining the chase in the 21st over, after Sherisa Gumbs was adjudged LBW to Emma Albery, the Beavers picked up the pace – Macleod playing a series of lofted tonks and Cunningham hitting the only six of the day over midwicket.
Their 61-run partnership was finally broken in the 31st over by Emily Thorpe, Cunningham departing for 43, but it was the reintroduction the following over of Wolfe – fresh from last week’s hat-trick against Somerset – which really broke the back of Berkshire’s chase.
She initially had Amanda Potgieter clean bowled for a duck, and then added to her tally of destruction by having both Macleod (42) and Phoebe Graham trapped LBW in successive deliveries – Ashleigh Muttitt seemingly lucky to have survived a similar fate after she walked in to face the hat-trick ball.
From there, although the lower order fought bravely, the result was all-but a foregone conclusion – Berkshire eventually bowled out for 146 in the 48th over, a direct hit run-out from Middlesex keeper Iqraa Hussain finishing the job.
Earlier, with Anya Shrubsole sitting on the sidelines (literally!) ahead of the England internationals this week, it had been Graham’s time to shine, opening the bowling with Lauren Bell in Shrubsole’s place and finishing with figures of 3-30.
In tandem, the pair out-paced the Middlesex top order, with Cordelia Griffith edging Graham behind in the second over; while at the other end Bell opened up with two maidens before clean bowling both Tash Miles and Albery.
That left Middlesex 19-3; but Morgan – in a fitting likely end to her lengthy county career – was once again the backbone of the innings, sharing a 40-run partnership with Naomi Dattani – Dattani displaying some powerful hitting over midwicket, while Morgan was content to carefully nurdle singles through the gaps.
Captain Macleod eventually induced one pull too many from Dattani to have her caught at midwicket, but Morgan took the less risky option and stuck around for 10 more overs, adding another 41 runs with Ollie Rae (26) before being run out by a smart piece of keeping from stand-in Berkshire glove-butler Ellen Watson.
Though Middlesex couldn’t quite see out the 50 overs, with Macleod, Graham and Sophie Day all chipping in with wickets, they did add a crucial 34 runs across the last 10 overs – number 11 Wolfe smashing 3 quick-fire boundaries with a 19-run cameo at the tail end of the innings, runs that proved just as critical as her wickets to the eventual scoreline.
Of course the result is purely academic, given that this is the last season in which the Women’s County Championship will run. For all that, it was a match which was clearly hard-fought on both sides – and a fitting end to the competition which has for so long been a critical breeding ground for the England players of the future, and which will (for those who have followed, played in and helped to run it) be deeply missed.
*Stat courtesy of @_hypocaust