At lunch, Middlesex had been reduced to 51 for 2, with Nick Gubbins and captain Peter Hanscomb at the crease. Both men have struggled for runs this year, particularly the latter, and it would be fair to say there would be no better time for that fact to change than in the second session of the day.
Unfortunately for fans of the Seaxes, it did not immediately look like runs would be easy to come by. Hanscomb looked intent on negating lateral movement by charging down the wicket, but he looked awkward when meeting the ball and runs seemed only to come from the edge of his bat. Gubbins on the other hand looked paralysed in his crease and as far from comfortable as a batsman can look.
Inevitably, this awkward partnership came to a swift end; the skipper Hanscomb the man to fall. Once again, he charged down the pitch before shouldering arms, only to see his off-stump cartwheel out of the ground as the ball collided with it. A poor dismissal that continues a very difficult start of the Australian in North London.
Soon after, rain once again stopped play. A passing shower that looked to come at a good time for Middlesex, but Gloucestershire would likely be pleased in the knowledge that their bowlers had controlled the game up until now and this break would likely serve only to interrupt the rhythm of both Gubbins and new man in Robbie White.
However, to interrupt a player’s rhythm, they have to first find some sort of rhythm, something Gubbins never seemed to do. Caught behind off the bowling of David Payne, Middlesex’s number three has looked nothing like the player who had an average in the 40s in last year’s Bob Willis trophy; never in touch today, his scrappy 18 might have been the top score on the day but it was nowhere near the standard both he and Middlesex set themselves.
As the clouds passed away, though, so too did the pressure that Gloucestershire seemed to have built. White, who has looked Middlesex’s most consistent batter this year, and John Simpson, who is another player who has struggled to find his 2020 form, came together just as another collapse seemed likely but instead quickly built the largest partnership of the innings to that point. Both looked to leave as much as they could and simply punish the bad balls; suddenly, the pitch seemed to be getting flatter, the sky was getting clearer, and for the first time the visitors seemed to be losing their grip on the match.
Enter Tom Smith. The spinner had just had his bowling smashed back over his head for four by Simpson, and the next delivery seemed to be a bit of a half-tracker. However, as every club batsman knows, when there has been some rain on an early-season pitch, you cannot risk rocking back to the short ball. As was the case here, with the ball keeping low and careening into the pad of Middlesex’s keeper, low and bang in front. An unfortunate (and perhaps undeserved) end to Simpson’s innings, and also an end to the session. At tea, Gloucestershire had wrestled back control and Middlesex were 117 for five.
White continued to look solid though and his new partner, all-rounder Martin Andersson, seemed happy to play shots as well. These two are, alongside Ethan Bamber, the most exciting members of Middlesex’s current squad and both looked happy to show everyone watching along on sky sport exactly what the hype is all about.
For Andersson though, this was a film we had seen before. He got set, started to look good, relaxed, played some shots, and then he got out. A player who showed so much promise last year, again failing to live up to their own high standards.
From there, the collapse began. Without the injured Toby Roland-Jones, the tail of Middlesex looks a bit too long. Perhaps James Harris will be able to fill that bowling-all-rounder shaped hole in the side, but he could not manage it today, bowled by David Payne for just eight runs. Payne also accounted for the wickets of Thilan Walallawita and Tim Murtagh, completing his five-fer; he finished with match figures of 18.5-6-31-5 at an economy of 1.65.
The Seaxes were all-out for 210, but it was another impressive innings from the young White. He finished on 76 not out, frustratingly once again falling short of that elusive first-class hundred, but this time. not for the want of trying (and an innings in red ink always make the average look healthy).
Gloucestershire managed 7 overs of their innings before the close and Middlesex did manage a small victory when Wallallawita ran out opener and captain Chris Dent. However, the real test starts tomorrow.
Gloucestershire’s day, and you would have to feel that White is likely starting to wish he had just a bit more help from his teammates.