After 15 years without a trophy, Middlesex certainly picked the right one to end their drought. In winning the 2008 Twenty20 Cup, they have earned themselves riches the envy of all county players. And their victory was utterly deserved: they have been the best side throughout the competition, winning 11 of their 13 games.
Their success has been built on the soundest of formulas. Mixing the accumulating batting style of Ed Joyce and Billy Godleman with the unorthodox flair of youngsters Eoin Morgan and Dawid Malan, the phenomenally-powerful hitting of Tyron Henderson and the tournament-winning brilliance of Owais Shah, their batting line-up was formidable indeed.
Their bowling was expected to be less so. However, in Murali Kartik and Shaun Udal, Middlesex had the best spin pair in the competition, able to suffocate the opposition in the middle overs with their canniness and subtle variations: Kartik’s economy rate was 6.7, Udal’s a brilliant 6.2. Their pace bowling appeared on paper to be their weak link, but Henderson, Dirk Nannes and Tim Murtagh all rose to the challenge throughout, with Henderson's yorker-filled death bowling particularly significant.
Always, they had someone able to take on the responsibility as the county set about improving upon their previously appalling Twenty20 record.
The best instance of this was Malan's extraordinary quarter-final century against Lancashire. At 21/4, the game seemed almost gone yet Malan's knock transformed the match. Driving powerfully against the seamers and treating Simon Marshall's leg-spin with skilful and calculated disdain, Malan provided evidence of a rare talent. He also illustrated the self-confidence and self-expression that Joyce, in tandem with injured club captain Ed Smith, has established.
Yesterday Middlesex certainly showed few signs of nerves in the first Twenty20 finals day. Against the favourites Durham, they stifled them through a combination of the parsimony of the Udal-Kartik duo and some wonderful fielding, leaving Shivnarine Chanderpaul unable to get into Twenty20 mode. Henderson then obliterated Durham's powerful pace attack with a 19-ball half-century, even having the audacity to launch Steve Harmison over his head for six. He was at it again in the final, as Middlesex's bold plan to promote him to number three paid dividends, but was totally overshadowed by Shah.
Called a big-game player by Joyce prior to the final, he proved him emphatically right with a model innings for this form of the game. Shah was able to manipulate the ball into gaps with his wrists, showing his propensity for finding unlikely corners of the outfield. He then launched a memorable assault upon the off-spin of James Tredwell: one would have called it slogging, but the incredible speed with which he hit through the ball and the distance with which three consecutive deliveries sailed over the ropes showed the skill and practise that have gone into the shot. The 34-ball 75 was a superb innings that illustrated the range of skills he brings to England’s limited-overs sides. And he surely deserves more than his mere two Test caps.
As Rob Key and Joe Denly put on 89 at ten-an-over – opening with them for England would certainly be an improvement on the Bell-Wright partnership in the ODIs against New Zealand – Middlesex would have wondered whether their 187 would prove enough. But Kartik and above all Udal, with a relish for a big occasion the like of which seemed in the past when he retired last year, transformed proceedings, helped by Joyce’s run-out of Arafat. Darren Stevens and Justin Kemp took Kent to the brink, but Murtagh bowled a superb, yorker-leaden 18th over to confirm his startling progress since leaving Surrey. Even when Stevens departed, the assault continued, with two moments – Joyce’s drop off Kemp; and Malan’s awful throw gifting two runs – looking crucial as the equation became four off two balls. Henderson’s figures were 3.4-0-0-58, but the South African held his nerve to deliver two superb yorkers. A trophy, at last, was Middlesex’s.
With a richly talented side imbued with self-belief following this victory, Middlesex’s years of underachievement should be coming to an end. But they were thrashed by Worcestershire in their last CC match and remain lurking in Division Two mediocrity. Whatever their grim four-day form, Antigua, and perhaps India too, awaits.