Middlesex 338 (Malan 124, Gubbins 59, Stirling 56, Overton 4-84, Trego 3-67) versus Somerset 153-4 (Compton 58 not out, Hildreth 53, Finn 2-48)
The tree-lined Uxbridge cricket ground is a world away from Middlesex’s usual home at Lord’s, NW8, scene of Somerset’s crushing away victory against the north London county last season.
Deep in the suburban commuter belt, Uxbridge is one of the few out grounds left in county cricket. Spectators sit on blue fold-up chairs around the boundary edge; sponsors are entertained in a tent next to the sight screen rather than the corporate boxes of a major ground. It may lack some of the charm of some other outgrounds that have fallen off the county circuit, but it’s still a very pleasant place to watch – and play – a game of cricket.
Change of scenery aside – and despite Uxbridge’s historic reputation for being a flat track – Somerset’s bowlers would have been hoping to reap rewards against a Middlesex batting line-up they dismissed for just 106 and 164 last year.
And, but for a series of dropped catches on a rain-shortened day one, Somerset may well have had dismissed Middlesex reasonably cheaply again this time.
Somerset’s bowlers struck back well on day two, taking the last six Middlesex wickets for 127 runs. By the close, two fine half centuries from Compton and Hildreth had left the match evenly poised with two days to play.
- Middlesex innings
The story of day one was one of missed opportunities as chances were put down in the field, despite a decent effort by the bowlers.
After a good start which saw danger man, Middlesex captain Chris Rogers, trapped lbw by Lewis Gregory for just seven, Dawid Malan and Nick Gubbins put on 109 for the second wicket. As they did so, the first of four chances went begging in the field.
That first chance was offered by Gubbins who was put down by Marcus Trescothick at slip off Peter Trego on 46 on his way to an eventual score of 59. Then Pete Trego failed to hold onto a difficult and well-hit caught-and-bowled chance offered by Malan.
Malan was on 55 at the time and made Somerset pay, providing the backbone of the Middlesex innings and playing some lovely strokes as he completed his second championship century in a fortnight. He was eventually dismissed for 124, off 218 balls with 24 fours.
The other two dropped catches were both off chances offered by Eoin Morgan, who looked completely out of form throughout his innings.
First Morgan was put down by Alviro Petersen at third slip off Alfonso Thomas before he had scored. Then, after he had scratched around for eight runs, he was dropped off Overton behind the stumps by Alex Barrow (keeping wicket in place of Craig Kieswetter, who was attending a family funeral).
Fortunately for Somerset, Morgan failed to capitalise on his let-off and when he reached 12, he offered Petersen a second chance to catch him, this time at extra cover off Trego. Despite his lack of runs however, he had occupied the crease for an increasingly frustrating 80 minutes.
Ultimately though Middlesex’s eventual score of 338 all out off 97.5 overs was still well below a par 400 here and bowling coach Jason Kerr will be well pleased with his charges, in particular Craig Overton who finished with four wickets.
In muggy conditions, with plenty of cloud cover during the first two days, there has been plenty in this wicket for bowlers prepared to pitch the ball up and let it swing or move off the pitch. But there’s been plenty of bounce and carry too, particularly for the tall fast bowlers Overton and Middlesex’s Steve Finn, some of it variable.
In contrast, some of the shorter deliveries, unless well directed, have sat up and given the batsmen plenty of time to put them away for four.
Overton learned some lessons from day one, and bowled much better on the second day, removing batsmen six to nine in the order. Early on day two he dismissed Middlesex keeper John Simpson for a duck with Trescothick taking an excellent, sharp diving catch at slip.
Later Overton picked up two wickets with consecutive balls, interrupted only by the lunch break. First he got Stirling to play on, ending a frustrating, but valuable innings of 56. Then with his first delivery after lunch, he bowled Murtagh first ball without scoring. Overton’s final victim was Toby Roland-Jones who, after some lusty hitting, skied one and was caught by Barrow.
Craig continues to impress this season and this was a great effort by the young all-rounder with the ball after his recent run of scores with the bat.
Trego claimed three wickets, the first two after a short rain break on day one, which seemed to spice the wicket up a little. As well as Morgan’s wicket, he trapped Dexter plumb lbw with a full one which kept low. Then on day two, he unleashed a yorker which knocked Finn’s leg-stump out of the ground.
Thomas picked up two wickets, both of them to excellent diving catches from Barrow behind the stumps. The first came off a rising delivery which Gubbins could only fence at. Then, the Thomas/Barrow combination finally accounted for Malan, the ball coming through low to the keeper.
George Dockrell had a few overs, but with cloud about, conditions mostly suited the seamers. The wicket is quite dusty though, so if there is no more rain, George could get some purchase on day four.
- Somerset innings
Steve Finn and Tim Murtagh bowled a probing line outside off, getting bounce and movement and making the batsmen play. Finn bowled a particularly quick and hostile spell, almost reaping rewards straight away when Trescothick was put down at third slip on 5. Then with the score on 10, Finn made the breakthrough as Jones played a short ball to Morgan at slip for 1.
Trescothick stroked three boundaries, including a glorious, booming cover drive, but also fell to Finn, nicking a particularly quick one behind to keeper Simpson for 14.
Petersen never looked completely comfortable and after he was also caught behind off Murtagh for 1, Somerset were in real trouble at 28-3.
Calm heads were needed and the vastly experienced pair of Compton and Hildreth proceeded to build a 75-run partnership either side of tea. Both have been short of runs lately, but delivered exactly what their side needed here.
Hildreth looked in lovely touch, stroking the ball to all parts of the park, bringing up his half-century off just 58 balls with eight fours.
Compton was the model of defence. Exactly what was needed. After striking boundaries either side of the wicket off consecutive balls from Finn early in his innings, he played a composed innings, hitting just two further fours on his way to a half-century off 146 balls. On reaching his landmark he unleashed two further boundaries, one lofted down the ground and into the press tent. He had one let-off during his innings, being dropped in the slips by Sterling (who was only fielding there because Morgan was off the field, having been stung by a bee).
Compton and Hildreth’s partnership was eventually ended by a bowling change when Rogers brought the medium pace of Neil Dexter into the attack. Perhaps not acclimatising to the slower pace, Hildreth played his first rash shot, attempting to pull a straight ball which kept low and bowled him.
Alex Barrow came out to join Compton and gradually grew in confidence, reaching 19 not out in 41 minutes with four boundaries by close of play, and putting on 50 with Compton.
Play was eventually called off at approximately 5.50, with seven overs still to bowl when Finn bowled a sharp, well-directed bouncer, which Barrow failed to see and only just got out of the way of.
Rogers remonstrated with the umpires, but allowing his bowlers to bowl short stuff under increasingly darkening skies was probably not the smartest move if he wanted his men to stay on the field.
Match position after day two: With Hildreth’s wicket in the final session, Middlesex will feel they are slightly on top, especially if they can remove Compton or Barrow quickly in the morning. But all their light-hearted sledging this evening (“let’s get stuck into the all-rounders”), Middlesex know that Somerset’s ‘tail’ more than wags these days, so there’s a job ahead of them, particularly with the new ball still 29 overs away.
With a complete session taken out of the game on day one due to rain, time isn’t on Somerset’s side. However weight of runs – if they can bat through tomorrow and make a big first innings total – could yet put pressure on Middlesex on the final day.
At the close on day 2, Marcus told the official club website: “We lost a couple of early wickets and were under a bit of pressure but we had a couple of good partnerships, between Compo and Hildy who both made 50’s and then Compo and Alex Barrow at the end.
“We fought back hard after a tough day yesterday when we weren’t quite at our best, but we are still right in it and it is a big morning tomorrow for us.
“The new ball is quite an important time on this wicket, when it is hard and it nips around a little and it has gradually got harder to bat on.”
Tres added: “Tomorrow morning there are still quite a few overs before they get to the new ball so if we can get a good partnership building up to that hopefully we can keep scoring.”
BBC London’s Kevin Hand told the BBC website: “Bad light meant a further seven overs have been lost in a match that looks as though it will need all the time it can get for a victory for either side.
“Middlesex started the day well as Dawid Malan brought up a deserved century after a fluent knock on a track that kept the Somerset bowlers interested throughout.
“But, having lost Paul Stirling just before lunch, the innings was quickly wrapped up denying the hosts even a fourth batting point when at one stage they would have hoped to push beyond 400, which would have been a daunting prospect on this track.
“The Middlesex bowlers began well, with Steven Finn bowling his best spell of the season, finding pace, bounce and consistency, but the ball appeared to soften quicker than in Middlesex’s own innings and, once Nick Compton was dropped by Stirling at slip off Neil Dexter, the threat to the batsman diminished.”
BBC Somerset’s Anthony Gibson said: “It was another evenly-balanced day between two well-matched sides.
“A clatter of wickets before and after lunch saw Middlesex subside from 319-6 to 338 all out, whereupon Somerset lost their first three wickets for just 28, thanks mainly to as hostile and accurate a spell as Steven Finn has bowled all season.
“But a fluent James Hildreth and a determined Nick Compton pulled the situation round with a stand of 75, and after Hildreth departed, Alex Barrow kept Compton company to the close.”
Nick Compton told CricInfo: “I had to strip things back a bit. Steven’s a quality bowler and he’s come back to form and was charging in there. It got my juices going. You don’t often find that in first-class cricket when you have someone of his pace running in and getting it above your head. So that was exciting and it was nice to get into that battle.”
Somerset: Trescothick, Jones, Compton, Petersen, Hildreth, Barrow, Trego, Gregory, Overton, Thomas, Dockrell
Middlesex: Rogers, Gubbins, Malan, Morgan, Dexter, Simpson, Stirling, Roland-Jones, Murtagh, Finn, Patel