At the start of the first day of the penultimate round of fixtures in the County Championship, the title race was perfectly poised with Middlesex, Yorkshire and Somerset all in contention.
As the day’s action played out on either side of the Pennines, it was Middlesex who took charge with a dominant display at Old Trafford – while Somerset kept their hopes alive at Headingley.
Leaders Middlesex began the day a single point ahead of Yorkshire, with Somerset a further 21 points back. The side from Lord’s knew that a win at Old Trafford would leave their fate in their own hands, with a head-to-head clash against Yorkshire in the final game.
When Nick Gubbins and Sam Robson proceeded to put on a century stand for the opening wicket, and news filtered through from across the Pennines that Yorkshire were losing wickets at regular intervals, it was all looking rather good for Middlesex.
Skipper James Franklin could have been forgiven for putting his feet up and humming KC and the Sunshine Band’s ‘That’s the Way (uh-huh, uh-huh) I like it (uh-huh, uh-huh)’.
Now, the New Zealander’s penchant for 1970s US disco-funk is, as yet, unproven. But Franklin could only be delighted with the way this crucial first day was progressing for his side.
Gubbins and Robson, both in the mix for an England Test opener spot following Alex Hales’ withdrawal from the tour to Bangladesh, were in imperious form.
Following a few early nibblers from Lancashire’s new-ball pair, the openers cruised through to on 93-0 lunch with precious few scares.
Earlier there was an eyebrow-raising call at the toss from Lancashire, who elected to bowl first. Whether the fact that opening batsman Luke Procter was stuck in traffic played a part is unknown.
Left-hander Gubbins brought up his half-century before the interval, from 89 balls, and the century stand came up shortly after the break from 194 balls.
It was all rather grim progress for a Lancashire side who haven’t picked up a victory in their last nine Championship games – a run that has seen the early title-contenders slide into the relegation fight.
Ashley Giles’ side knew that 20 points from their remaining two fixtures would secure their Division One status, but the first morning offered precious little hope of a flurry of points coming their way.
More bat-raising came when Robson passed his 50 and Middlesex were ploughing on relentlessly on 113-0. Lancashire didn’t appear to have any idea how to force a wicket and, in truth, they were gifted one.
Gubbins’ knock of 69 came to a dismal end when he totally mistimed a tame short ball from Kyle Jarvis and looped the ball to Alviro Petersen at mid-wicket with the total at 127.
Lancastrians are never known to look a gift-horse in the mouth and proceeded to apply the squeeze – culminating in the wicket of Robson who edged Simon Kerrigan to first slip while attempting a booming drive. His 77 was a timely nudge in the direction of the England selectors.
If the door appeared to be ajar for Lancashire, it was slammed shut again by a swift fifty partnership between Nick Compton and Dawid Malan – which came up from just 68 balls. At Tea, the pair had pushed the score on to 204-2 and extended their County Championship lead over Yorkshire from one point to two.
Talking of Yorkshire, the news continued to be positive from a Middlesex standpoint. The White Rose were struggling at 122-9 and, despite a positive last-wicket stand, were all out for 145 against a Somerset side desperate to stay in the hunt for a first Championship title.
Craig Overton and Jim Allenby – not always a Taunto fans’ favourite this term – were the chief destroyers, each finishing with three scalps.
When bad light brought a premature end to play at both Headingley and Old Trafford, they had done just that.
A century stand between Marcus Trescothick and Chris Rogers guided Somerset to 107-1 at the close – just 38 adrift of Yorkshire’s first innings total. It had been a day to forget for the reigning champions.
It is Middlesex though who sit the most comfortably, despite Somerset’s fine day. Compton fell for 56, ending a 97-run stand with Malan, but they ended in a strong position on 258-3.
A commanding day, which only worsened Lancashire’s relegation fears, saw Middlesex steal a march on Yorkshire in the title race.