It is no secret that Middlesex have had issues with their top order this season.
In fact, their top four had managed just 126 runs in four innings before their clash with Nottinghamshire. This included all four being out for ducks against Essex in their previous first innings outing at Lord’s.
Therefore, it is safe to say that hopes were not particularly high when they were faced with essentially a whole evening session against a Nottinghamshire attack, including two seamers who had taken a nine-wicket and an eight-wicket haul in their previous match respectively.
Oh, and Stuart Broad.
Mark Stoneman and Sam Robson strode to the crease and looked uncomfortable against the new-ball bowling of Broad and Brett Hutton.
The third over of the innings saw a brilliant battle between former England teammates.
However, Stoneman relieved some of the evident pressure with a lovely shot through mid-wicket, which raced away for the first boundary off the innings. He was quickly reminded of the quality he was up against; with Broad beating the bat all ends up with the very next ball.
This game of cat and mouse did not deter Stoneman, who managed to survive the over, and even ended it with a flourish with an off drive from the final delivery.
Robson did not seem so confident, taking 22 balls to get off the mark. But once both players had played their way in, they were able to back their ability more, with Robson’s clip into the leg side boundary from a swinging Hutton delivery to move into double figures a perfect example.
The pair almost fittingly reached their fifty partnership through an element of luck, with Lyndon James finding Stoneman’s inside edge to allow a single after the allrounder had a convincing appeal for an lbw turned down in the previous over.
James did not have to wait long for his fortunes to change, just the next ball in fact. Another shout for lbw saw the finger raised, and Robson had to go for a season-best 17.
Pieter Malan came to the crease being the only number of Middlesex’s top four yet to make it to double figures, having managed just six runs from four attempts so far in 2023.
He quickly surprised his total for the season in one Dane Paterson over, but not before his moved away from a potential third duck from five innings with a thick outside edge.
At the other end, Stoneman began to play with a level of fluency previously unseen from a Middlesex top order batter and brought up his first half-century off the season with a confident pull from a short James delivery.
Malan looked set to put his poor start of the season behind him as he and Stoneman increased their scoring rate after the latter reached 50, hitting 28 runs from 6.2 overs.
In a late throw of the dice, Broad was handed the ball in the 31st over, with the gamble immediately paying off as Malan was pinned lbw first ball, bringing an end to his 26-run innings, as well as the day’s play.
It was a day that was without an entire morning session due to rain, with play not resuming until 2:10pm. Ben Duckett, continuing on 119, was watchful for a total of two overs, before powerfully pulling a loose Martin Andersson delivery to the boundary. There was certainly some built-up anger from the delay in that shot.
The England opener was supported admirably by Steven Mullaney, who also took a liking to the expensive Andersson, dispatching him to the boundary twice two overs later, including a lovely drive to end the 75th over.
The Nottinghamshire skipper then served Luke Hollman the treatment, cutting the spinner’s first delivery of the day for four, before sending his fourth into the grandstand for six, requiring a new ball from the umpires.
Middlesex then elected to take the new ball, with captain Toby Roland-Jones breaking the partnership of 90 six overs in, trapping Mullaney in front.
Duckett continued to bat with a calmness and ease in spite of bowlers’ toil, especially that of Bamber and Higgins. He brought up his 150 in spectacular fashion, crunching a delivery through the covers with a technique that deserves to be in a textbook.
Bamber finally got some reward with the wicket of Liam Patterson-White, bringing Hutton to the crease, who should probably thank him given the view it allowed him of the most audacious shot. Duckett, who spoke yesterday about his plan to paddle scoop Higgins, did just that, bringing up a four in a truly ridiculous fashion.
Hutton failed to trouble the scorers with Bamber finding the top of his off stump to pick up his fourth, bringing Stuart Broad to the crease. The nighthawk had entered the arena.
It was the nighthawk who ended unbeaten on eight, with Duckett dismissed for a marvellous 177 just two balls. He tried to send Higgins into the stands but miscued the shot, with Andersson taking a high catch, before Paterson was bowled first ball.
His effort saw Nottinghamshire post 364, meaning they head into day three with a lead of 253 runs.