Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio!

 Leicestershire v Middlesex, Grace Road, County Championship, 14-15 September 2011 

It’s an indication of how quickly the darkness of Autumn seems to descend that although this, the last match of the county season, only took place a week ago it seems to belong to another season altogether. 

My expectation when I booked the time off was that I would be watching Northants joyfully crowning their season with promotion on one day and on the other bidding a fond but melancholy farewell to Grace Road at the end of what has been a less than successful season.

In the event, I didn’t make it to Wantage Road.  Northants, who’d gone to the top of the Division at about the same time (early May) as Leicestershire had taken up residence at the bottom, had faltered, and were left needing a victory with maximum points in their last match against Gloucestershire and a miracle – or, to put it another way, a Leicestershire victory against Middlesex – at Grace Road.

Northants had won by lunchtime on the third day, but had failed to gain maximum bonus points.  All Middlesex needed to do was draw.

I imagine that – contrary to my expectation – the air of melancholy was at Wantage Road and the joy – of a sort – at Grace Road.  A number of pink shirted, expectant  and well refreshed Middlesex supporters had made the journey and kept us entertained with their amusing chants, such as “Middle, Middle, Middle – Sex, Sex, Sex!” and “Who Are You?”.

The Leicestershire players, too, seemed  in good spirits.  The regulars, most of them rested for the game, were looking forward to their trip to India and the younger players were glad to be playing in their place.  Ned Eckersley – who had begun the season as the man with no squad number (but a sackful of nicknames) made a century in the first innings and a fifty in the second.  Greg Smith, who has had a wretched season since coming down from Loughborough, made a century too.

At lunchtime on the last day there was a slightly presumptuous announcement that Middlesex would be presented with the Championship trophy at the end of the match by Giles Clarke.  At 90-5, chasing 124, there was some hope in the East Midlands that Mr. Clarke and the trophy might have to be packed in a taxi and sent over to Northampton, but some late middle order thrashing hauled the Middles over the line and into a shower of champagne and group hugs.

A sub plot – of little interest to the jigging horde of Middlesexers, but of great interest to this blog – was what seemed to be generally assumed – but could not openly be acknowledged – to be James Taylor’s last innings at Grace Road.  He’d made 80 in the second innings – with a defensible total in sight – when he was given out caught behind off Crook.  He stood, turned painfully slowly, looked to the heavens (or at least the Gower Suite) and lingered on his way back the pavilion, thrashing the ground and air with his bat as he went.

It was a particular pity, in the circumstances, that he left the pitch for the last time to a chorus of “Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio” from the Middlesex fans who’d occupied the dugouts – left over from the T20 – in front of the pavilion.

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