Pair’s 243-run stand proves crucial as Middlesex sink to sixth defeat in eight
Leicestershire 136 (Parkinson 41, Andersson 4-27) and 378 for 5 (Harris 185, Ackermann 126*) beat Middlesex 295 (Simpson 95*) and 218 (Eskinazi 46, Wright 6-48)
Although they suffered an attack of the jitters late in the piece, Leicestershire broke their duck for the season in the County Championship with a remarkable victory over Middlesex, chasing down an unlikely target of 378 to achieve the third-highest successful fourth-innings run chase in their history.
Reprieved on 103 when he sliced a drive off Ethan Bamber but was dropped when the unfortunate Martin Andersson misjudged the chance and spilled it at third man, the South African-born allrounder saw his side home by five wickets with just 3.5 overs to spare.
Among successful fourth-innings run chases in Leicestershire’s history, this has been bettered only twice, when they reached a target of 391 to beat Derbyshire in 1947 and 381 to beat Northamptonshire in 1980, each time at Grace Road.
Yet the omens had not looked good for Leicestershire when Sam Evans fell to the seventh ball of the day, caught behind down the leg side for the second time in the match with only eight runs added to their overnight score and still 295 needed.
The last expectation then was that Middlesex’s young bowling attack would not claim another wicket in 86 overs until a weary Harris stabbed at one outside off stump and was caught behind off 22-year-old Thilan Walallawita, one of their two young spinners.
Shortly afterwards, Ackermann completed his first Championship century for three years when he swept the same bowler for his 16th four, having faced 229 balls. The Sri Lankan-born left-armer Walallawita set nerves jangling in the home crowd when he had new batter Lewis Hill leg-before on the sweep in the next over.
After the Ackermann escape, which conceivably could have turned the game with 37 still required, Leicestershire lost another wicket when Bamber uprooted Harry Swindells’ middle stump as the pressure began to tell.
But Ackermann relocated his calm and, after Ben Mike had eased his own nerves by finding the boundary for the first time with his 18th ball faced, swept legspinner Luke Hollman round the corner to run three, leaping with his bat in the air as he completed the third.
Harris, who has 10 Test caps to his name, hit 21 fours and a six, having faced 311 deliveries. His 185 was the third-highest score of his first-class career and his sixth of more than 150. Until he was out, the only semblance of a chance he offered was on 175, when he was a whisker away from being caught-and-bowled by 20-year-old Hollman, who was unlucky that an impressive performance gained no reward.
Earlier, Harris and Ackermann had entirely dominated proceedings, adding 84 runs in a chanceless morning and a further 115 in the afternoon to leave 96 from 32 overs in the last session, underlining the value of Chris Wright’s 6 for 48 in Middlesex’s second innings to keep Leicestershire in the game.
Harris, 93 at lunch, went to 100 slightly streakily, edging a ball from Andersson in the area second slip would have occupied had there been one. Instead, it continued to the rope for his 13th four from 193 balls. It brought him his 17th career first-class century and his second for Leicestershire.
His quicker bowlers having failed to make the desired early inroads, captain Peter Handscomb turned to his two young spinners to see what they could do, although on a pitch that had not broken up to anywhere near the degree Middlesex had hoped when they chose to go with only three seamers.
It was asking a lot of them to be match-winners against such experienced adversaries as Harris and Ackermann. The tall Hollman, a confident young man who already has a presence about him on the field, looks an outstanding prospect, but this was only his third first-class match.
Likewise Andersson and Ethan Bamber look like a couple of young quicks with good careers ahead of them, but as the third-wicket pair kept the scoreboard turning with a metronomic regularity under a cloudless afternoon sky Middlesex may have regretted leaving out Tim Murtagh, who doubtless needs to be rested now and again in his 40th year but took eight wickets in the match that they won here in 2018.