Middlesex 338 (Malan 124, Gubbins 59, Stirling 56, Overton 4-84, Trego 3-67) and 169-2 (Gubbins 67 not out, Malan 48, Morgan 42 not out, Thomas 1-14) versus Somerset 264-9 (Compton 94, Hildreth 53, Barrow 36, Finn 3-80). Middlesex lead by 243 runs with eight wickets remaining, Middlesex 6 points, Somerset 5 points
Middlesex finished day three of this contest on top tonight after Somerset’s first innings fizzled out and the home side quickly built a sizeable lead.
Captain Chris Rogers will no doubt be planning a declaration at some point tomorrow to reignite any remaining hopes his side have of challenging for the championship this year.
And Somerset vice-captain James Hildreth indicated his team are prepared to accept the challenge if it is indeed laid down by Rogers during day four.
But with rain forecast for much of tomorrow and this Uxbridge wicket gradually reverting to type, a draw remains the likely outcome with only three sessions remaining.
It was hard to fathom Somerset’s tactics at times today. Just 75 runs were scored in the morning session. Then, after lunch, just 31 more were added in a funereal passage of play lasting 70 minutes, before a sudden declaration on the fall of the ninth wicket, with Somerset still 74 runs behind.
If a declaration was imminent, one might have expected the batsmen to have had a go and tried to put as many runs on the board as they could. But, despite a few big blows from Pete Trego, there was little attempt by Somerset to seize the initiative with the bat, albeit on an increasingly slow wicket.
When Middlesex batted, there was early hope for the visitors when Rogers fell cheaply for the second time in the match. He lasted just three balls of Alfonso Thomas’s first over before following one behind to Alex Barrow for 2.
Thereafter Nick Gubbins and Dawid Malan resumed where their partnership had left off in the first innings, putting on 106 in 24 overs to set up a possible day four declaration.
Somerset’s bowling lacked the control of the previous day and Gubbins was particularly severe on anything loose, hitting a six off Gregory into the car park and nine fours, three of them off one over from Overton.
Malan, who made a century in the first innings made his way to 48 before eventually being caught behind off Overton, trying to force the pace.
Eoin Morgan, who’d survived two dropped catches and rarely looked comfortable in the first innings, played a good supporting role to Gubbins second time around, scoring 42 and stroking five fours and a six. He has so far put on 61 with Gubbins, but as the ball became softer, so the run rate slowed significantly.
Earlier, Compton and Barrow resumed Somerset’s first innings at the start of play. Looking comfortable, they looked set to extend their partnership until lunch. But after putting on 84, there was a calamitous mix-up as Barrow attempted a second run and was sent back by Compton, only to be run out.
Barrow had batted well for his 36 off 73 balls, hitting seven fours in nearly two hours at the crease.
Pete Trego played a breezy 24 with four boundaries, two off off-spinner Ravi Patel to bring up the Somerset 200 and first batting point. But for the second time in two days, the introduction of Neil Dexter into the attack brought a wicket as trying to hit another boundary, Trego misjudged the slower pace and skied the ball up to Steve Finn at deep point.
There were to be no heroics with the bat today for Craig Overton. After recent championship scores of 86 and 99, he was bowled for just 4 with a full-length ball from Roland-Jones which kept low.
Middlesex took the new ball immediately before lunch and Toby Roland-Jones greeted Lewis Gregory with a quick, lifting ball. Perhaps unnerved by the previous delivery, Gregory was caught at extra cover, driving loosely at the next ball.
Thomas joined Compton after lunch and the pair dug in during an uneventful passage of play against the new ball. Nick Compton became increasingly becalmed, scoring just 36 runs in three hours today.
It was with some surprise then to see him, on 94, attempt to hook Finn, only to top edge the ball to Tim Murtagh at fine leg.
It may have been slow going today, but Compton’s innings, particularly during yesterday was an extremely valuable one, given the lack of sizeable contributions from most of the Somerset batting order.
Compton withstood a really testing, high quality spell of fast bowling from Finn on day two, the paceman getting plenty of bounce off a length and keeping Compton on his toes. In all, Compton batted for 370 minutes, faced 278 balls and hit nine fours. Following his century at Durham, this was his third score in the 90s this season. He thoroughly deserved his 100.
Alfonso Thomas was left 19 not out when Trescothick employed some funky captaincy of his own, and declared Somerset’s innings behind.
With Somerset failing to make inroads into Middlesex’s batting line-up, Tres knows the outcome is firmly in the opposition’s control. At the same time, he knows he has the players in his side who are capable of chasing down a target, although he will miss Craig Kieswetter and Johann Myburgh.
With Somerset just four points ahead of Middlesex going into this match, both sides urgently need to chalk up another championship victory, so a run chase would suit them both.
Sadly the strong chance of rain and an increasingly flat wicket – which may prevent Rogers from setting anything too gettable – are likely to prevent the chance of a positive result for either side tomorrow.
At the close on day 2, James Hildreth told the official Somerset club website: “Generally it has been quite disappointing for us really because we would have backed ourselves to have got a few more runs on that wicket and we were also disappointed with how we bowled. Our skill levels and our disciplines were not quite where we wanted them to be today.”
Hildy went on: “The beauty of the game now is that it is in their hands and it is definitely one where if they leave us a target then we are the kind of team who are prepared to go for it. We bat deep and we have got some good batters in our line up, and we could chase quite a high score on this ground, so we will certainly be going into tomorrow with the confidence that we can get the right result.”
BBC London’s Kevin Hand told the BBC website: “The track appears to have reverted to its slower self and forcing a result may be beyond Middlesex, especially after the defiance of Nick Compton.
“Nick Gubbins and Dawid Malan again impressed in the second innings, with both showing fluency on a pitch that has seen most batsman struggle with their timing.
“For Gubbins, it was a third fifty in his first four Championship innings and the 20-year-old is showing a great deal of promise with the maturity of his batting and array of shots.
“Middlesex are unlikely to give the visitors a sniff when they declare and the new ball will hold the key as to whether they can apply pressure throughout the final two sessions of the match.”
BBC Radio Bristol’s Anthony Gibson told the BBC website: “This was probably the worst day of Somerset’s Championship campaign so far.
“They batted without either judgement or enterprise as they lost five wickets for 106 runs and Nick Compton fell in the 90s yet again after a painstaking effort, occupying 278 deliveries.
“After Marcus Trescothick’s surprise declaration, the bowling lacked discipline and consistency as they allowed Nick Gubbins, Dawid Malan and Eoin Morgan to stretch the lead to 243 by the close.
“On a pitch which is lasting well, Somerset will have to bat very badly in their second innings for Middlesex to force the win, but after their first-innings performance, I would not rule that out.”