Middlesex appear to have put themselves in the driving seat in the battle between second and fourth in Division Two.
After two days at Lords, Middlesex have taken control of the game that may determine who joins Nottinghamshire in Division One next season; that is assuming there still is a Division One.
Perhaps the most important contest of the game took place at 10 o’clock on day one, when Tim Murtagh won the toss and he put Glamorgan in to bat. However, the pitch was not the green top that many had expected and the general opinion was that good batting would be rewarded. Nevertheless the overhead conditions on the first morning were certainly in favour of the bowlers and while movement of the ball was not excessive, it was enough to cause problems, especially with the quality of the Middlesex opening attack.
Tim Murtagh has not had the season he might have wanted, with just 22 wickets at 32.77, but he was the first to strike, dismissing Eddie Byrom in the first over. An edge went into John Simpson’s gloves for the first of his five catches in the innings. Toby Roland-Jones then bowled David Lloyd and Glamorgan were 9/2. Shubman Gill and Sam Northeast put on 39 for the third wicket before Roland-Jones induced Gill to play on and three balls later the Murtagh/Simpson combination removed Northeast. Billy Root was the next to go, caught behind off Ryan Higgins, bringing Chris Cooke out to join Kiran Carlson. They looked the most assured of the Glamorgan batters and had put on 59 before Carlson edged Murtagh to Simpson for 36. Glamorgan were in trouble at 129/6 and Cooke ended as the top run scorer with 52. He and James Harris were both dismissed with the score on 165 and it was only a late flurry from Ajaz Patel, with 36 off 27 balls, that allowed Glamorgan to register a batting bonus point, the innings closing on 214. Higgins polished off the tail and finished with 4/59 on his return to Middlesex colours, while Murtagh ended with 3/58.
When the Middlesex innings started after tea, there was still some help for the bowlers and it was Michael Hogan who struck first, with the score on 36. Sam Robson pushed forward at a ball that took the edge and was pouched by Gill at third slip. Steve Eskinazi joined Mark Stoneman and they took the score to 90, at which point James Harris helped get Glamorgan back into the game with three quick wickets. Firstly he induced an edge off the bat of Eskinazi, which was well taken by Cooke in front of first slip, before Pieter Malan played on and Max Holden edged a ball to Northeast at second slip, both without scoring. Simpson then came out to join Stoneman with the score on 92. Simpson is having an excellent season with the bat having scored 770 runs at 64.16 in the Championship, including a century in the game at Sophia Gardens in April. They were able to see things through to the end of the day, leaving Middlesex on 132/4.
When play resumed in the morning of day two, both Simpson and Stoneman showed admirable patience, defending resolutely while punishing the bad ball. They brought up their 50 partnership off 90 balls and when rain took the players off for an early lunch, Middlesex had reached 184/4. The restart was delayed until 2:20, but soon after Stoneman moved to his third century of the season.
The breakthrough was eventually made when Ajaz Patel was brought into the attack, inducing an edge from Stoneman into the gloves of Cooke. He and Simpson had put on 234 for the fifth wicket and put Middlesex well on top. Higgins joined Simpson and they continued to accumulate runs up until the players were forced off for an early tea with the score on 261/5. After tea attempts were made to restart the game, but rain kept interfering such that only 4.3 more overs were possible, Middlesex ending on 286/5; Simpson on 72 and Higgins on 35. In the morning the Glamorgan bowlers will have use of a ball that is just 1.3 overs old.
Middlesex will go into day three with a first innings lead of 72 and two batters well set. The forecast is for rain early in the morning which should then clear and it looks as if there will be plenty of time for Middlesex to achieve the win they need. Glamorgan will be hoping for early wickets with the new ball and a better batting display second time around. Currently Middlesex have five bonus points to Glamorgan’s two, bringing Middlesex within four points of their opponents. There is still plenty to play for!