When Alex Ferguson coined the term “squeaky bum time” he was probably referring to a brief period, perhaps several minutes, while a really tight, crucial (in his case, football) game unfolds.
In Middlesex’s case at the end of the 2016 county championship season, squeaky bum time lasted several days during the last match; arguably several weeks during the last few matches. Personally, I was fortunate enough to take in a good deal of that squeaky last quarter of Middlesex’s county championship:
- two days at Edgbaston against Warwickshire;
- two days at Trent Bridge against Nottinghamshire;
- four days at Old Trafford, against Lancashire;
- a fair chunk of the final match, at Lord’s against Yorkshire, covered below.
Tuesday 20 September
Charles (Charley “The Gent” Malloy) Bartlett joined me for the first day’s play; a more or less traditional meet for a day of the last Lord’s match of the season. Janie was to join us later in the day and all three of us were to attend the sponsors’ evening that night. Janie was hoping that Dot would join us too, but she really doesn’t care much for the longer form or that sort of party, apparently.
Chas let me know that he was running a little late, but I soldiered on as planned to ensure that I was on death row before the start of play, securing a couple of good seats. We stuck to those excellent seats all day, much against the better judgement of our aching backs and limbs. I made a scaled down version of Chas’s favourite picnic, with smoked Alaskan salmon bagels as the centrepiece. We went dry during the hours of play, as Chas had a medical appointment the next day. Shame, as I had tracked down his favourite Villa Wolf Riesling.
Middlesex had been inserted under leaden skies and I thought did pretty well to avert disaster. Nick Gubbins in particular batted like the emerging star he undoubtedly is, surviving the day.
Janie (Daisy) turned up a few minutes after tea, but only got to see 10 or 12 overs before it got gloomy, so an hour or so of play was lost to bad light. Many eyes were on the Somerset match (the third team still in contention for the trophy), which initially had looked like it was going the maximum points route for Somerset until they collapsed late in the day.
After watching some of the interviews on the outfield…
…we sauntered over to the party, which was a very jolly wine and cheese affair. Ryan Higgins, who was our sponsored player this year, took the trouble to seek us out and chatted with us quite a bit. I also got a chance to chat with quite a few of the regular Middlesex folk, all of whom seemed to be feeling as squeaky as me. Surprise surprise.
Wednesday 21 September
I don’t know what sort of idiot organised a Z/Yen Board meeting and lunch on such a crucial day of the County Championship. I tried to keep an eye on the score discreetly and as many brain cells as possible focused on the business at hand.
When I finally got away, soon after three, I guessed that I’d catch most of the last session, as the weather/light looked much better today. So it proved. I enjoyed that two hours or so in the Committee Room. Middlesex had taken several early wickets, but were finding it increasingly hard to take more. I witnessed a couple that evening and/but we were all hoping for more. The game seemed poised at stumps, perhaps starting to tilt Yorkshire’s way. Somerset were on the way to a 23 point win, so Yorkshire would need to score 350 or more runs in their first innings to stay in the hunt.
I walked home and made a light supper of smoked trout, prawns and salad. One or more of the prawns sought revenge overnight; more leaky than squeaky…with hives thrown in. Yuk.
Thursday 22 September
I thought best to rest off my condition in the morning, getting some work out of the way gently while following the match from home. I was due to play tennis at 14:00.
The morning went worse for Middlesex than the night had gone for my guts; Yorkshire edging towards that 350. I set off for Lord’s during the luncheon interval, intending to watch for about half an hour before changing for tennis. Yorkshire continued edging towards that 350 mark as I watched from the Upper Allen.
I needed to change – surely it would be on the TV in the dressing room anyway. It was. My opponent was also interested. With the score tantalisingly poised at 349/9 both of us left the dressing room with some reluctance. I wasn’t even sure whether I wanted Yorkshire to score that extra run or not. Earlier in the day, of course, I had hoped for them to subside below Middlesex’s score of 270. But now they had gone that far past, it seemed Middlesex’s only chance of a win would be for Yorkshire to still be in the hunt needing to chase runs on the last day.
We had plenty of time to think about it. Soon after we started playing tennis, we heard rain on the roof and soon quite a crowd gathered in the dedans gallery. “Is the score still 349/9?” I asked. Several people nodded.
Our tennis must have been quite stunningly excellent, as most of our crowd sat in stoney silence throughout the hour. I spotted Ed Griffiths in the dedans gallery too, although mercifully he seemed more interested in his conversation than observing the finer details of my sporting talent.
We came off the court to see (on the TV) that the score was still 349/9 and that play had just resumed. Ryan Sidebottom duly hit the run that kept Yorkshire in the hunt and then helped take them yet further beyond the Middlesex score.
I was feeling quite drained, so decided to walk/tube it home and catch the end of the play on the TV. I ran into Angela Broad on the tube, so I was able to show her in actual use the marvellous tennis racket bag she handed down to me when I took up real tennis.
Closing the day just two wickets down and getting closer to parity, I felt that the final day could still turn out to be a corker, as long as Middlesex were to bat well in the morning.
I had a rest, then went out again to Holborn for an Ivan Shakespeare Memorial dinner with the old NewsRevue crowd. Only about half-a-dozen of us this time, but great to meet up as always. I decided to stay dry and eat a simple, chicken meal. A very light, cautious supper by Ivan Shakespeare Dinner standards. I probably looked and seemed both peaky and distracted. I was.
Friday 23 September
What a day.
I was scheduled to play tennis at 10:00. I made a bit of a mess of getting away in timely fashion and the tube wasn’t at its best that morning, so I jumped in a cab at Edgware Road and cabbed it the last mile to be sure not to be rushing.
Now in good time, I had a chat with Joe on reception, who was quite gloomy about Middlesex’s prospects and seemed surprised that I really thought we still had a reasonable chance, albeit an outside one.
I played a really good game of tennis today; my opponent (whom I had played a few times before) correspondingly had a poor match; we’ll rematch soon I’m sure, as we now play level and it is normally a very good match when you play people whose handicap is level (or all-but level) with one’s own.
Anyway, after changing, I felt like superman and went to try and find a seat on death row for a while. I spotted Westy, who was able to make room for me, just about, with thanks also to the very pleasent vicar from Skipton who also made space for me and interesting conversation with me.
Westy pressed me to join him and others in the Committee Room just before lunch; due to the match position they had (uncharacteristically for the last day) ordered a heap of lunches and probably now had fewer takers than lunches.
So, I quite unexpectedly enjoyed a splendid Committee Dining Room lunch. We saw Messrs Gale and Franklin in conversation outside the doors of those official dining rooms; clearly keen to make sure that any negotiations they were undertaking were visible and reported to the authorities.
We had a grandstand view of the large crowd perambulating before we sat down:
Very pleasant company at lunch, both Yorkshire and Middlesex. Then an opportunity to see some cracking good cricket from that wonderful vantage point, just above the away dressing room. What an honour and privilege on such an auspicious day :
Then the declaration bowling, then an early tea with the season set up as a 240/40 run chase. If Yorkshire got the runs, they would be county champions, if Middlesex bowled them out, Middlesex would be champions, if the game ended as a draw (the light might have seen to that) then Somerset would be champions.
Perhaps a final 150 minutes or so of squeakiness ahead of us.
We returned to the Committee Room itself to watch events unfold from there.
I had texted Janie about 14:00 to suggest that she leg it to Lord’s. She demurred, something about banking her cheques. I tried to persuade her that just occasionally there are more important things in life than doing one’s bankings.
Events unfolded. Middlesex seemed to be chipping away at the wickets, but we knew as the ball got older it would be harder to force wickets. Still, the consensus among the Middlesex folk was that the declaration had been very generous; among the Yorkshire folk that it had been mean and very challenging. I entertained the possibility, in those circumstances, that the captains might pretty much have got it right.
After what seemed like hours while still four down, I decided to take a strategic “leg stretch” and was delighted to hear a massive cheer just as I came up the stairs to return through the Long Room to the Committee Room; Tim Bresnan was out LBW. “Why didn’t you go earlier?”, asked one Middlesex notable. “Go again”, suggested another.
I started to get occasional texts from Janie saying she was on her way, looking for somewhere to park etc.
Then the flurry of wickets to end the season. I knew Middlesex had taken three wickets in three balls at the very end (Finn, then two for Roland-Jones) but none of us at the time realised that the denouement was also a hat trick for Toby Roland-Jones.
In any case, we were in a euphoric state. Celebrations on the outfield. Players coming through the Long Room to uproarious applause and cheers. Players going back out again.
Janie turned up, took some photos and joined in the celebrations.
It’s a bit difficult to explain how this all felt and feels. I’ve left it nearly a week before writing up this piece, but there’s no sense of distance from the extraordinary events yet in my mind. As much as anything else, we have the end of season lunch (tomorrow at the time of writing) and members’ forum (Monday) to look forward to, so it still feels alive.
Then back to the reality of trying to see through the Middlesex strategy and build that medium to long term future for the club. Success should, of course, make some aspects of the strategy easier to implement, as long as we can avoid the complacency that sometimes comes with success. I think we have a good chance of going from strength to strength; there are enough wise heads around and the club seems hungry for more success.
For pity’s sake, Ged, live in the now for once. What a day. What a week. What a month. What a season.