If you had offered this position to Derbyshire supporters at the start of the match, they may well have laughed. Even at the start of the day for that matter. To be 226 runs ahead of the county fancied by many to win Division Two this summer, with two days of good weather to come, is a very impressive effort.
Two days do not make a summer, of course and the key for Derbyshire now will be to finish off a job that they’ve started extremely well, and maintain the high intensity level of cricket displayed for the rest of the summer.
Kim Barnett must be happy with the initial return on the investment in Ravi Rampaul and Duanne Olivier. Both showed their class over the opening two days against Middlesex, bowling with skill and purpose that was simply too much for the visiting line up.
Rampaul runs up to the crease looking nothing out of the ordinary, yet the final rock back sees a strong body and shoulder deliver a ball that is likely quicker than it appears to the casual bystander. It was said pre-season that he may benefit from ‘flying under the radar’ and he could well do so in the months ahead, a steadying influence at one end, like Tony Palladino, steadily nipping it one way and the other, making the batsmen think.
With Olivier, Derbyshire may have got at the right time. A good spell here will put him to the front of the queue of would-be South African bowlers and everything about him strikes me as a cricketer of purpose. His run accelerates, unlike Rampaul, into a final coil and whip which must make him awkward to face, with his bounce and lateral movement a potent combo. In the flesh he looks quicker than on video and he is a key component of what looks a very strong seam attack. Olivier also shows the same purpose in the field and is a fine cricketer.
That attack apportioned the wickets out quite nicely today and Middlesex were never allowed to get going. The only criticism one could make was in some of the direction, which made Gary Wilson’s life a difficult one behind the stumps and added too many unnecessary runs to the visiting tally for most tastes.
When Derbyshire went in to bat again, with a lead of 108, Ben Slater and Luis Reece did extremely well. Slater, as he did in the first innings and in pre-season, looked a player of real talent, playing shots all around the wicket.
Reece led a more charmed life, with a couple of lbw calls and a rap on the hand before the rain stoppage, but they are phlegmatic characters who could become a fixture at the top of the county order for years to come.
As the clock passed six, the partnership a hundred and the lead 200, those supporters who remained could reflect on two impressive, professional days of cricket.