John Simpson starred in an impressive middle order fightback to put the Middlesex back in control on day two against Worcestershire.
On the morning of day two, Tim Murtagh and Luke Hollman were able to finally dismiss the Worcester tail but not before the visitors extended a slender 27-run advantage thanks in no small part to a rapid 61 in just 51 balls from number 10 batsman Josh Baker.
The slow left-arm academy graduate from Redditch picked an opportune time to score some runs for his team, boasting a high score of only 12* and an average of six before this knock.
If Sam Robson or Mark Stoneman had checked the weather before the start of play, it probably would have served only to unnerve them; all that awaited the Seaxes in North London were low and heavy clouds.
From the first ball of the third innings, the ball was swinging, both from the hand and late through the air. Again and again, the ball beat the batsmen but it also completely beat the bat and so the Middlesex openers survived.
Every now and again, Dillon Pennington would go searching for a bit too much swing and each time the ball found itself on Sam Robson’s pads he obliged by pushing it over the boundary rope. Two early boundaries brought up 1,000 first-class runs for his 2021 season; an impressive return from a man who has reaffirmed recently that he has not given up on a recall to the England Test team.
His partner was not quite as lucky. Stoneman, who never once looked settled at the crease, managed to negotiate 35 balls without troubling the scorers before finally being trapped LWB by new bowler Charlie Morris. It seems bizarre to say, but other than his phenomenal 174 against Sussex the new man has really struggled to adapt to life in North London; he has only managed 12 runs from his other four innings, including three ducks.
The first wicket brought Steven Eskinazi to the crease who picked up very much where Stoneman left off. His first runs came from an outside edge through a vacant gully region and while he did take Middlesex into the lead with a fluid drive through the covers for his second boundary, they would also serve to be his final runs of the match. Ironically, he was caught excellently off one of his most confident looking shots of the day by Gareth Roderick at midwicket from the bowling of Charlie Morris.
Worcestershire thought they had another wicket just before lunch; a big noise as the ball passed the bat of Robson before flying into the gloves of Ben Cox behind the stumps, but Robson was adjudged to have hit his back pad with his bat. So, he survived and Middlesex went into the break on 35-2, leading Worcestershire by eight runs.
It did not take the visitors long to get back into the groove, striking in the very first over of the session. New man Robbie White did not know whether to play or leave Morris and in the end failed to do either, giving a regulation catch to Daryl Mitchell at second slip.
Then, with momentum swinging their way, Joe Leach took the vital wicket of Robson. The Middlesex opener had looked good for his 22 runs, but the delivery from Leach was simply too good, just short of a length, leaving the batsman and just feathering the outside edge before reaching the gloves of Cox behind the stumps. In the blink of an eye, the home side were 39-4 (a score that was effectively 12-4 due to Worcester’s second innings lead). Worrying, to say the least.
However, in a season when Middlesex have brought through, and subsequently depended upon, several exciting youngsters it once again fell to them to dig their side out of a hole the experienced pros had left them in. Max Holden and all-rounder Martin Andersson put on a partnership of 51 from 99 balls, simultaneously steadying the ship and putting pressure back on the Worcestershire attack.
The two of them were also still at the crease when Middlesex passed the 100 mark as well.
This fightback was eventually subdued by the wicket of Andersson who was pinned by Ed Barnard, but not before an impressive 45 given the context of the game when he arrived at the crease.
Middlesex’s resurgence in form has coincided with Andersson’s and you would be hard-pressed to say it was a coincidence. His start to 2021 was confusing given the way he starred in the Bob Willis trophy the year before, but he seems to have rediscovered his knack for scoring valuable lower-order runs and taking important wickets in key moments.
Neither side took control of the match before the tea break, seemingly both happy to make their move in the day’s final session, and so Middlesex ended on the afternoon on 133-5; a lead of 106.
Holden’s watch was ended by the bowling of Pennington, just after he bettered his ex-partner Andersson’s score by one. The Middlesex number five edged to second slip and departed for what looks a vital 46.
The knock also took the 23-year-old to 98 runs in the match and gives him a great claim for player of the match when one considers how hard runs have been to come by on this Lord’s surface. Once again, the youngsters shining brightest for the home side.
Once again, though, a lower order Middlesex partnership was ready to weather the storm. This time, a combination of Simpson and Hollman went about calmly accumulating, increasing the home side’s lead.
The former was also the first Middlesex man to cross the 50 threshold on day two, having been dropped at mid-wicket after a miscued pull shot the over before. His half-ton took 97 balls and he once again proved how vital he is to the Seaxes.
The young guns were not to be outdone, though, as Hollman sat on a career-best first-class score of 40* at the close of play. Not for the first time in this match, a spinner picking a good time to show they can score some handy lower-order runs. This, combined with Simpson’s 59*, left the 7th wicket partnership on an unbeaten 80 runs.
At the close of play, it felt like the home side had finally put themselves in control of their own destiny. As for Worcestershire, they will have to feel like they have missed an opportunity.
Weather permitting, it should be a very interesting game.