There has been a familiar pattern to Worcestershire’s efforts in the field this summer. The county’s three front-line seamers have each sailed past 20 wickets for the season at a good average, frequently making strong inroads into the opposition batting line-up in the process. However, their spinners have struggled badly and largely as a result they have failed to convert good positions into potentially match-winning ones.
So it was today at Uxbridge. On a surface regarded as a batsman’s paradise but which in fact offers some assistance to the medium-pacers on the first morning Middlesex were reduced to 5-2 and then 51-4 before their Antipodean imports, Joe Burns and James Franklin, came to the rescue. By the time Franklin went through to his second century of the season midway through the evening session, the balance had tilted in favour of the hosts.
Franklin’s innings, it has to be said, was exceptional. Coming in at number six he started slowly, supporting the fluent Burns during a 51-run stand for the fifth wicket before taking over after the latter’s departure, in the process putting on 170 with John Simpson. His hundred came up off 187 balls, including fourteen fours. The former New Zealand all-rounder then accelerated during the last hour to reach 135 before falling in the last over of the day, caught at leg-slip off Jack Shantry. Only one real chance was offered before then, a hook shot piercing Charlie Morris’s hands at deep backward square-leg on 120.
When Franklin was signed as a home player by virtue of his Irish passport a few Middlesex supporters might have grumbled about a 34-year-old journeyman taking the place of a home grown twenty-something. But in an age when overseas players come and go, and England players are around only occasionally, players like Franklin that are around all season are invaluable. If he can bat as he did today even a few more times over the coming seasons he will have proved his worth.
On paper, Franklin et al. had a formidable spin attack to contend with – Saeed Ajmal, the man with 447 international wickets to his name, and Moeen Ali, England’s likely Ashes tweaker. In fact both failed to make an impact, not for the first time this season. Ajmal is clearly struggling – Franklin described him as a “completely different bowler” from the one he encountered before his ban. But it is Ali’s form that will be of immediate interest to England supporters. Going into this match he had taken only seven first-class wickets all summer, a haul he failed to add to today during 12 largely tidy but unthreatening overs. The calls for Adil Rashid are getting louder by the day.
The failure of Worcestershire’s spinners to make any type of breakthrough went a long way to undoing the good work of the seamers, especially Jack Shantry who was good value for his four for 60. By the time Shantry came on as first change Middlesex had already lost two wickets, the first to the very first ball of the match – before the official start time had even been reached – as Sam Robson was well caught at third slip by Tom Fell off Charlie Morris. Nick Compton followed soon after, hitting a Joe Leach full toss to mid-wicket.
Burns and Nick Gubbins briefly steadied the ship but Shantry picked up Gubbins, tamely offering a simple catch to mid-on, and Paul Stirling in quick succession to leave Middlesex in real strife before 20 overs had been completed. The two substantial partnerships followed, the first broken by a stunning low gully catch from Fell off Shantry’s bowling to remove Burns, and the second by Morris who displaced Simpson with the second new ball. Franklin’s dismissal to the first ball of the final over evened things up somewhat but given the events of the first hour Middlesex will nonetheless be by far the happier team tonight after getting up to 289-7.
“Overall it was probably a reasonably satisfying day”, Franklin said. “If we can get a couple of 20 or 30 run partnerships tomorrow it will obviously take us up to 350 which after being 50-odd for four would be a good effort”.