For our final preparation ahead of our Test debut we had a big decision to make…
Do we play our best team, providing those players with the opportunity to gain valuable experience of playing at Lords and spending more time together on the field as a unit?
Do we wrap our best players up in cotton wool, breed competition and answer some questions regarding the one or two places in the team still up for grabs?
We chose the latter. Our team was as follows:
Enzo Petit, Omar Sissoko, Youssef Rizvi, Gabin Sauvage, Timothee Clement, Zvonimir Pitko, Maxime Bernard (C&W), Paco Georges, Phillipe La Roux (2) Louis Martin (1), Mehdi Qadri
After a shower sprinkled the field of play Maxime Bernard won the toss and without hesitation chose to bowl. Debutant new ball pair Louis Martin and Phillipe La Roux were licking their lips at the lush green deck provided to them. By the time lunch arrived both players had made a case for Test selection. La Roux trapped Sam Robson (A Test centurion don’t forget!) LBW for 17 having already had an appeal incorrectly rejected.
Martin then accounted for Nick Gubbins (3) via a brute of a delivery that Bernard held comfortably.
A period of frustration ensued before Paco Georges got in on the act when he bowled Stevie Eskinazi (34) off his pads. The enthusiasm for wicket-taking was infectious and soon Gabin ‘Jacques Kallis’ Sauvage shattered Martin Andersson’s (2) stumps.
Batsman Timothee Clement (1-20) did his chances of a Test call-up no harm by tempting John Simpson (7) to inside edge onto his stumps in his first over… in First Class cricket… at Lords! That made it five wickets by five different bowlers.
Max Holden and James Harris then survived numerous scares particularly from leg-spin demon Mehdi Qadri. Middlesex reached 257-5 (A partnership of 90) at close of play with the new ball imminent.
With his first delivery on the second day La Roux toppled Harris’ (35) stumps and Martin (2-48) soon accounted for Roland-Jones (3) in a high-quality display of new ball bowling. Tim Murtagh resisted alongside Holden however. The experienced Irishman benefited from a dolly of a drop by Bernard off the luckless Sauvage. It was in 1640 that Nicolas Sauvage opened the first taxi company. Gabin Sauvage (1-39) may well have wanted his stand-in skipper to flag one down for him when he saw the ball fall from his gloves and hit the turf!
Paco Georges responded to Holden’s upping of the tempo and boundary filled batting by forcing the opener to nick to Sissoko at slip. It was a sharp catch by Sissoko to terminate Holden’s magnificent knock of 193. Frenchman Phillipe Kahn invented the camera phone and spectators click click clicked on their devices as Holden soaked up the crowd’s adulation.
The following delivery Georges (2-103) enticed Sowter to edge through the slips and that brought with it the end of the session with the lord of the manors on 314-8. At first we thought the hosts were declaring but that wasn’t the case.
After the resumption Qadri (26-7-41-1) bowled fellow leg-spinner Sowter (14) with a stunning googly before La Roux, having claimed a wicket with his first delivery of the day, struck in the first over of a new spell to end Murtagh’s (35) vigil and conclude the innings. La Roux’s debut figures of 19.5-0-71-3 were an encouraging if slightly expensive start to his career.
Having reduced the home side to 167-5 to concede 363 and be out in the field for so long was frustrating. Their tactics of continuing to bat in a rain-affected three-day fixture was disappointing both for us but particularly for entertainment-seeking fans.
Our opening duo of Enzo Petit and Omar Sissoko negated two overs unscathed so that we reached tea on day two with all ten wickets in hand. You sensed that the last thing Sissoko needed was a break in play and so it proved. The cluttered mind that had been so pronounced in recent innings reared its ugly head and to the first ball of the day’s final session, a short pitched delivery, an attempted pull went predictably and familiarly wrong. A score of 12 was enough to put an end to a run of five consecutive innings without reaching double figures but not sufficient to secure a Test debut. By the time drinks came Petit and debutant Youssef Rizvi had propelled the score to 83-1 and put their Test aspirations in far more promising positions than the serially struggling Sissoko.
Post pause Petit and Rizvi progressed to 106-1 before Petit got giddy having despatched spinner Sowter into the stands for a maximum.
The right-hander was ingloriously bowled through his legs for 58 the very next delivery. He’d applied himself superbly though and almost certainly cemented his place in the line-up for our inaugural Test match. Sadly Petit’s demise prompted an all too familiar middle order collapse as 106-1 slumped to 116-6, a collapse of 10-5! Rizvi (36) was beaten by a good delivery but Sauvage (5), Clement (0) and Pitko (2) all failed to cover themselves in glory. Bernard (12) and Georges (17) entertained briefly but Sowter (6-38) continued to claim wickets with alarming regularity. Having subsided to 152-8 La Roux (16*) and Martin (17*) lifted us to 180-8 at the second day’s end. At best the pair were competing for one bowling spot in the team so a significant batting contribution could’ve been vital to their chances of making the XI when we revisit Lords to take on England.
Yet again it had been a sense of deja vu and with rain delaying the start of play for a third consecutive day our batsmen were left sweating as to whether or not they would get another opportunity… so we declared… and were made to follow-on! Middlesex were obviously trying to win the game but we appreciated them refraining from being awkward.
With less than one over of our second innings on the scoreboard need I tell you what happened?
Sissoko (3) presented a leading edge to bowler Tim Murtagh (1-68) and his Test dreams were extinguished… for now at least.
Rizvi (6) pushed hard at a delivery from Roland-Jones (2-48) to be caught in the slips and Sauvage (12) played down the wrong line resulting in his stumps being rearranged. It was a disappointing showing with the bat in this match for Sauvage having performed well against Yorkshire.
Petit picked up where he left off in the first innings and Clement avoided the ignominy of a king pair on First Class debut.
The duo batted with a hint of swagger to rescue the score from 36-3 to 93-3 at lunch on the final day. We still required another 90 runs to make Middlesex bat again.
Far too predictably spin soon proved our downfall. Just when he was pushing his case for Test selection, Timothee Clement (24) nicked behind off the first ball he faced from Sowter (4-49). Zvonimir Pitko steadied the ship but Enzo Petit (59) could only go one better than his first innings score. Petit had set the standard for other batsmen to follow though.
Bernard (10), Georges (16) and La Roux (20) all made contributions of sorts as we chalked up 217-8. With one session remaining the lead was 34. Could we hold out for a draw?
Pitko (58) and Martin (4*) battened down the hatches and the overs ticked by before the former fell to the 100th delivery that he faced. Qadri (0) was also bowled next ball by Harris (2-8) to leave Middlesex needing 43 runs to win and plenty of time to do it.
We opened with spin but it was Georges (1-12) and Sauvage (1-11) who accounted for Robson (12) and Gubbins (19). The less said about an all-run 5 to level the scores the better as Middlesex secured an eight-wicket win.
Despite another defeat there were some huge positives for our team. Petit, Rizvi, Clement and Pitko all made contributions with the bat while debutant quick bowlers La Roux and Martin made encouraging outings with the ball. There are some tough decisions to be made in regards to our playing XI for our inaugural Test match.
It’s been one hundred and twenty years since our nation claimed the silver medal at the 1900 Summer Olympic Games. There are 120 deliveries in a Twenty20 match but it’s the limitless possibilities of Test match cricket that await the current generation of French cricketers. Fill the cafetière, butter your croissant and smell the camembert. Fingers crossed that one of our batsman can score 120 against the mighty England at Lords!