MIDDLESEX secured a crucial Specsavers County Championship win over Warwickshire by one wicket amid scenes of the highest tension at sultry Edgbaston.
A career-best 45 (77 balls, five fours) from 22-year-old Ryan Higgins, playing only his third first-class match, saw his side most of the way to a target of 234.
He was eighth out with 24 still needed but last-wicket pair Tom Helm and Tim Murtagh found the seven runs required by the tenth wicket to see their side home to a victory which puts precious space between them and bottom-of-the-table Warwickshire.
For the champions, great relief and celebrations. For the home side, meanwhile, heartbreak – as they are left to contemplate a mountainous task ahead to avoid relegation with their woes compounded by a surprise win for fellow strugglers Somerset over Yorkshire at Scarborough .
After Middlesex began the day on 36 for two, they mustered a series of useful partnerships which together got an awkward job done – just! Nobody reached 50 but most got to double figures.
Overnight pair Nick Compton and Dawid Malan took the score to 54 before Malan (32, 55 balls, five fours) fell lbw to a Keith Barker in-ducker. George Panayi then ended Paul Stirling’s counter-attack (15 from 12 balls) with another lbw decision but Compton and John Simpson added 43 in ten overs.
Compton collected 49 from 99 balls, with five fours and a six, before he charged and missed at Jeetan Patel and was slickly stumped by Tim Ambrose.
Simpson and Higgins importantly saw their side through six overs up to lunch, at which Middlesex were 140 for five – 94 short.
The sixth-wicket pair then continued to bat watchfully and took their alliance to 48 in 16 overs before Simpson (40, 87 balls, five fours) inside-edged Rikki Clarke on to pad and the ball looped to William Porterfield at gully.
At 170 for six, Middlesex still needed another 64 and Higgins and James Harris found 23 of them. Harris edged Boyd Rankin behind to spark Warwickshire hopes again and when Patel was brought back on and Harris bat-padded his first ball to short leg, Middlesex’s last two wickets had to find 24.
Ollie Rayner and Tom Helm collected 17. Then Rayner fell lbw to Rankin and last pair Helm and Tim Murtagh had to summon up seven.
Amid scenes of excruciating tension they did so, Murtagh clubbing Rankin through the covers for a winning three before the teams left to a big ovation from spectators who had witnessed a wonderful final day’s play.
Warwickshire first-team coach, Jim Troughton, said: “At the start of the game we said we need to compete all the way through the four days and walk off at the end knowing we have given everything – and the guys have done that.
“We could be picky and look at 20 runs here and a decision there but we have 11 very dejected guys in there very disappointed at not having got over the line.
“Another 20 or 30 runs would have just put that little bit more pressure on Middlesex but even then the bowlers did really well. We knew they would have a partnership or two when we would have to hang in there and we did that but in the end we just ran out of runs.”