Group Two strugglers dig deep after Surrey dangle carrot but chase fizzles out after drizzle
Middlesex 160 (Simpson 68, Clark 4-41, Roach 4-61) and 250 for 6 (Gubbins 124, Handscomb 70, Roach 5-86) drew with Surrey 190 (Burns 64, Stoneman 63) and 259 for 2 dec. (Burns 104*, Stoneman 74)
Gubbins tucked into Amar Virdi – the only spinner used across the four days – by cutting, working, paddle-sweeping and then dumping him into the JM Finn Stand, bringing up his hundred as the floodlights took over by scrambling a single to mid-off. With the field spread, he scampered ones and twos with Handscomb to keep the required rate in check in a stand eventually worth 172 in 33.2 overs, and the equation was 74 to win from 78 balls before a brief stoppage for the lightest of drizzle.
When Roach cleaned up Martin Andersson with a cutter to complete his five-for in his final game as a Surrey player, giving him 19 wickets in his last two appearances at The Oval, it looked like he had might even have given them a sniff of an improbable win. But Burns kept the boundary-riders out for too long, and by the time he brought them into the ring, the moment had passed. Fist-bumps followed, and the crowd traipsed home.
There is no greater burden than unfulfilled potential and Gubbins knows that only too well. He was the second-leading run-scorer in Division One when Middlesex charged to the title in 2016 with 1409 runs at 61.26, but has not managed as many as 600 in a Championship season since. Five years ago, a Test cap was only a question of timing, but at 27, he has not been in the England conversation for some time and his first-class average is hovering the wrong side of 35.
But this hundred – his second in as many games at The Oval – was an innings of high class, dominated by clips and pulls through straight midwicket and cuts and drives to cover-point. It was the sort of innings that makes the right people take notice, not least with the Sky cameras in town: belligerent against spin, fluent in tempo, and determined against Roach, one of the world’s most prolific Test seamers against left-handers. Gubbins’ contract is up at the end of the season, and if he decides that he wants a home ground with better pitches than Lord’s – “it does make it slightly more enjoyable for us batters when you get on a wicket where you feel like you can score runs if you play well,” he told Sky after – then there would be plenty of prospective suitors.
Four of Roach’s five wickets came as Middlesex were desperately searching for quick runs but that did little to diminish the send-off he received from those in the crowd who had stuck it out in the late-evening squall. “It was overcast conditions and the ball was shined up nicely but it just didn’t do anything, so we found it pretty tough,” he said. “Hopefully I can come back again: I’m definitely willing and able – but international duties call.”
Indeed, it will be a very different Surrey side against Gloucestershire next week: Sean Abbott has arrived and will come straight in for Roach, while Burns, Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes will be on Test duty and Jason Roy and the Currans are expected to remain unavailable following their post-IPL quarantine. The draw leaves them with an uphill task to finish in the top two and qualify for Division One, while Middlesex look destined for the bottom two despite their spirited efforts this week.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98