This was one of those magnificent days of out ground cricket. The sun shone from first ball to last, the crowd packed in and the cricket delivered a compelling spectacle. Lancashire will feel they have narrowly edged ahead of the reigning county champions, after a glut of wickets on day one.
The big stadiums have their benefits, of course they do, but a trip to a ground such as Southport to watch two high-class teams do battle is the perfect way to take in county cricket. It’s only in situations such as this, sat in a tent behind the bowlers arm on the boundary edge, that you get a real sense of what is going on out there.
And what was going on was wickets, and plenty of them. Having won the toss and opted to bat first, Middlesex skipper James Franklin wouldn’t have envisaged that his side would be bowled out before Tea.
Lancashire’s 20-year-old seamer Saqib Mahmood impressed with the new ball, showing pace and rhythm to have Nick Gubbins caught down the leg-side for one.
Sam Robson looked in good touch on return from five weeks out injured, but edged Tom Bailey behind for 15 before Dawid Malan put a short ball from Bailey straight down the throat of Shivnarine Chanderpaul at fine leg from just his 11th ball.
When Ryan McLaren had Steve Eskinazi caught behind before lunch, Middlesex were 102-4 at the interval.
Keeper Alex Davies had taken three catches and would go on to claim six – one short of the club record for dismissals in a first-class innings.
He picked up his fourth catch when Paul Stirling advanced down the track to Mahmood, and suffered a leg-side death one run short of his half-century. Stirling had looked confident at the crease, hitting nine boundaries and one big six.
But his dismissal at 143-4 triggered something of a collapse. Franklin chopped on to give Mahmood a third, before Jordan Clark struck twice in the 47th over to remove James Harris and Toby Roland-Jones – both caught by Davies.
John Simpson provided stout resistance to the relentless tumbling of wickets, bringing up his 50 from 79 balls but he rapidly ran out of partners. Murtagh fell to Ryan McLaren for a duck, and Ravi Patel picked out Stephen Parry in the deep off Clark to end the innings in double-quick time.
Middlesex had collapsed to 180 all out, but began the fightback immediately as Tim Murtagh had both Davies and Liam Livingstone caught behind in successive deliveries of the first over without a run on the board.
Skipper Steven Croft and Haseeb Hameed shared a 50 stand to steady the ship, before Hameed became the fourth batsman of the day – after Gubbins, Stirling and Harris – to fall to a strangle down the leg side.
Croft would also fall for a well-made 31, but Lancashire’s Kolpak pairing of Chanderpaul and Dane Vilas saw them through to the close on 123-4.
Many observers will feel that the last hour or so nudged Lancashire’s noses in front, something Middlesex’s Murtagh agreed with.
“I’d say you’d rather be in Lancashire’s shoes, I guess, at the end of day one,” he said.
“But things can happen quickly in the morning, and if we can knock over Shiv and Dane Vilas in the morning we are right back in it. I think something will happen throughout the game.
“If we hang in there long enough we will get our rewards and hopefully fight our way back into the game.”
It was a game where wickets had fallen with great regularity, and when fourteen wickets fall on the first day questions immediately start being asked of the pitch.
But it looked a good surface, that simply offered some assistance for the bowlers and posed a challenge for the batsmen. Lancashire’s Mahmood had no qualms about the surface.
“I think there’s been a lot of soft dismissals,” Mahmood said.
“I don’t think it’s as bad a pitch as the score suggests. I think we stuck at our areas quite well and there were a few soft dismissals from them. It’s a pitch where you get rewarded for digging in.”
Rain is expected to play a part on Saturday, potentially wiping out the entire day. But this match has already advanced at pace and it’s Lancashire who are marginally on top.