Malan's ton puts County in danger of elimination
MIDDLESEX opener Dawid Malan registered a brilliant hundred at Lord's to dent Gloucestershire's prospects of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Yorkshire Bank 40.
A thorn in the County's side in previous encounters down the years, the South African-born left-hander made an unbeaten 113 and scored more than half of his team's runs as Middlesex posted 206 for five in 38 overs after winning the toss.
That proved too big an ask for Gloucestershire's batsmen on a worn pitch that favoured spin bowling, and hampered by the loss of early wickets, the visitors came up 21 runs short at 186 for nine.
Somerset's victory over Yorkshire 140 miles away in Taunton took them clear at the top of Group C, and Gloucestershire must now win their remaining two games – against second-placed Glamorgan in Bristol tomorrow and at home to their arch rivals and southern neighbours on August 26 – to have any chance of making the semi-finals.
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Needing to win to keep alive his side's faint hopes of qualifying, Middlesex skipper Neil Dexter elected to bat first in a bid to exert scoreboard pressure.
The ploy was only partially successful, as dangermen Paul Stirling, Joe Denly and Eoin Morgan all failed to come off in a big way.
Demonstrating an innate understanding of what was possible on a slow pitch, Malan instead opted for steady accumulation and played beautifully, carrying his bat in a chanceless innings that comprised 116 balls and was liberally studded with nine fours and two sixes.
He shared in stands of 51, 65 and 58 with Denly, Morgan and Dexter for the second, third and fourth wickets respectively, single-handedly defying Gloucestershire's bowlers to help his side achieve a competitive total.
Craig Miles struck with the new ball, removing Stirling's off stump in the second over, after which Gloucestershire profited from taking the pace off the ball.
Benny Howell accounted for Denly, who drove a slower ball to Michael Klinger at short extra cover with the score on 52 in the 11th over.
The hard-hitting Morgan helped himself to a sumptuous six over long-on off Miles, but he was never able to score freely and cut a frustrated figure when giving Chris Dent's occasional spin the charge and holing out to point for 22.
Malan made 50 from 66 balls and then went to three figures off a further 55 deliveries in a superbly-paced knock that was characterised by frenetic running between the wickets.
Dexter contributed a patient 20 before aiming a wild drive at a short ball from David Payne and top-edging to Alex Gidman at backward point and James Fuller made a mess of Gareth Berg's stumps as Gloucestershire kept up the pressure.
But there was no stopping Malan, who launched a fearsome late onslaught, plundering sixes off Payne and Fuller during the final two overs.
Gloucestershire spinners Dent and Ed Young had earlier given the visitors an element of control, sending down nine overs between them at a cost of just 44 runs during the middle part of the innings.
Gloucestershire made the worst possible start to their reply, Hamish Marshall and Dent departing inside two overs.
Marshall drove loosely at a ball outside off stump from Steve Finn and was caught by Morgan at point without scoring, while Dent offered a return catch to James Harris as the visitors slumped to three for two.
Heavily dependent on in-form skipper Klinger and Ian Cockbain, Gloucestershire just about remained in contention while these two held sway in a stand of 81 in 21 overs.
Having seen off rampant England paceman Finn and the equally troublesome Harris, the third-wicket pair were required to cash in against change bowlers Toby Roland-Jones, Berg and Ravi Patel.
But this was no pitch on which to take risks, and Cockbain's attempt to drive Berg ended in him lofting a catch to mid-off for 30.
Klinger had chiselled a painstaking 46 from 76 balls when he gave orthodox slow left armer Patel the charge and was undone by smart glove-work from John Simpson, who removed the bails off in a trice to reduce the visitors to 87 for four.
From that point onwards Gloucestershire were fighting a losing battle, and Gidman and Fuller fell to Patel and Harris respectively as the required rate shot up from six to 12 an over.
Howell flayed the ball in an enterprising knock of 39, but it was too little too late to turn the tide.