It took Middlesex five games at Lord’s last year before they managed a victory and similar patience maybe needed this summer after the weather thwarted their push for a win over Essex.
Dithering over their declaration in the second innings after deciding not to enforce the follow on always left Middlesex at risk of being denied by the April weather and when rain swept into Lord’s on Monday afternoon, and gloomy light forced them to bowl the spinners at the end with three wickets required to win, Essex suddenly had a sniff of drawing a game they should have lost.
Their two overseas players Neil Wagner and Simon Harmer (who plays as a Kolpak) kept out Middlesex’s seamers for nearly 15 overs, batting in tricky conditions with the ball whistling past them in the dark.
Middlesex were forced to turn to two spinners to prevent the umpires taking the teams off and Dawid Malan dismissed Harmer first ball with his leg spin but soon enough it was deemed too dark even for the slow bowlers and Essex had survived with two wickets left in hand.
“The most important factor for us was the state of the bowlers and they had already bowled 20 overs,” explained MIddlesex head coach Richard Scott when asked about the decision not to enforce the follow on. “So that was the decision made and if it had not been for the weather we would have won comfortably.”
Scott was right. On the field MIddlesex did all they could dominating the four days with both bat and ball. Centuries in the first innings and half centuries in the second for all of their top three pressed their advantage with the bat and with Steven Finn looking back to his old self and Toby Roland-Jones equally on form this was a strong showing from the champions.
Finn bowled with pace and hostility suggesting the hesitancy of last summer has been cast off and he has found his rhythm early on. He has worked extensively with Middlesex bowling coach Richard Johnson in recent weeks and the result is Finn bowling more consistently and giving away fewer runs while still producing the wicket taking deliveries that have been his trademark. “He bowled with good pace and carry and is just getting better and better whenever he bowls,” said Scott.
Essex were set a nominal 452 to win but if you have to bat all day to save the game then having Alastair Cook at the top of the order gives a team a chance. Cook passed 20,000 first-class runs when he reached 16, which for many batsmen is a moment to savour but is more mundane for a player who collects milestones for fun.
When a little extra bounce from Olly Rayner lured Cook into an edge to short leg Middlesex had their first real hint of a win. Some variable bounce at the Pavilion End did for Tom Westley, who was pinned lbw by one that kept low, and the Essex order was really cracked open when Dan Lawrence was caught at slip driving at Finn.
Ravi Bopara lost his off stump to Finn and Roland-Jones struck quickly twice to leave Essex in real trouble. With Finn bouncing Wagner, retribution for the New Zealander hitting Steveie Eskinazi on the head on the second day, life was tough for the Essex tailenders but edges did not carry and they batted doggedly with Essex unbeaten now in three games since promotion.