A combination of bad light and James Hildreth brilliance ensured both Middlesex and Somerset kept up their drawing campaigns after their fourth day at Lord’s. Ollie Rayner’s four wickets, including two in two balls, threatened a result, but Hildreth’s unbeaten 85 took Somerset to a lead of 155 before the umpires waved away the game off.
With Middlesex just a handful in the lead, it seemed hopes of a result would be lost when James Harris and Tim Murtagh took to the crease still with pads on this morning. The latter in particular was adventurous in batting but, attempting a reverse paddle, looked rather foolish and was bowled to give Jack Leach a triumphant five-for.
A wasted 20 minutes, perhaps, in the context of a game both sides would have seen as potential victories given a combined ten draws, no wins and no losses before this week.
But by lunch, it was a whole different story. Tom Abell fell to a full Murtagh ball that may have been slipping down the leg side, while Marcus Trescothick and captain Chris Rogers were caught behind off Murtagh and Rayner respectively. Suddenly we had a potential game on our hands.
The day was to get better for Rayner, diving away to his left to snaffle a struggling Jim Allenby off James Harris for just 6 – think Ben Stokes’ Trent Bridge catch – enough for those touring the press box to put down their selfie sticks and take up rapturous applause.
But amidst the chaos, Hildreth was batting like a dream, a trait Somerset fans have become accustomed to for a very long time. Opening his account with a glorious cover drive, a deft touch backward of square brought him another boundary, while back-to-back fours just after lunch lifted the pressure just a fraction on the slow Lord’s wicket.
It seemed he and Peter Trego, who brought up his fifth consecutive first-class fifty, would comfortably see the visitors to safety. But when Trego hoicked Rayner down to a diving Harris at backward square leg, the balance shifted once more, even if the batsmen looked dubious as to whether the catch was taken.
That wicket catalysed a collapse, as Somerset lost three wickets for two runs to Rayner, with Lewis Gregory the next to go when edging to James Franklin at slip, and while Ryan Davies staved off the hat-trick ball, he was bowled attempting to flick to leg to put the visitors further in danger.
Rayner’s roar told you Middlesex still had the victory fight.
From a slow wicket yielding just 19 wickets in three days, suddenly there was a chance of a result, although Hildreth reminded us of the simplicity of batting, pushing past 14,000 first-class runs, effortlessly gliding 11 boundaries on his way to 85 before bad light after tea threatened the chances of a result.
Craig Overton’s 19 is not to be downplayed either, coupling flashing drives with shots of more elegance, but it’s Hildreth, a man thought deserving of England recognition, keeping Middlesex at bay at Lord’s.