Stirling takes his chance with maiden Championship ton
Middlesex 337 for 4 (Robson 152*, Stirling 111) vs Yorkshire
On Thursday, Ireland's Test status is expected to be confirmed at The Oval. At London's other great cricket fiefdom, Paul Stirling provided more welcome news for Ireland: his maiden County Championship century. With Sam Robson serene at the other end in an alliance of 187 which could be match-shaping, the upshot was a perfect day for Middlesex's bowlers, who had no need to take the field in the scorching sun.
Stirling has long been a curious case in first-class cricket. The talent that earned him two ODI centuries against Pakistan before his 23rd birthday has not been in doubt. Yet the discrepancy between his first-class and limited overs returns for Middlesex - before this innings, he averaged 27.77 for the county against the red ball, but 41.46 in one-day cricket - has been infuriating.
He has been shuffled around the order, struggled badly when used as an opener in 2015, and suffered from the sheer strength of Middlesex's batting. Ireland commitments, which have limited his availability and made it tricky for a fringe player to return to the side, have been another complication.
He chose an opportune moment to transfer his formidable limited-overs record to the red-ball game. Middlesex have had a curiously underwhelming start to their Championship defence since beginning the season with a round off; their opening five games have brought one defeat and four draws. And at Lord's they had to confront Yorkshire's bowling attack with a slightly cobbled-together batting line-up. They were missing three of their normal top five - Nick Gubbins, who's with England Lions; Dawid Malan, who's with England; and Adam Voges, who's with the physio.
A good time, then, for Stirling to play a breakthrough innings. In these conditions - the green tinge on the pitch was deceptive, just as in Middlesex's last Championship game here - he does not need to adapt his limited-overs game much to excel in the first-class arena. His timing, punching the ball through the off side while scarcely bothering to move his feet, was impeccable. This was a distillation of how Stirling can use his natural strengths in red-ball cricket: he greeted Adam Lyth's offspin by thumping him over mid-on for six and then, with the man moved back, calmly pushed his next delivery to long on for a single.
"There's a lot of people competing. It's a tough gig to get in," said Stirling. "I need to score a bit more consistently but I don't want to take away from my instinct of playing attacking cricket which is the balance that I want to find. James Franklin just told me to take my tempo from one-day cricket into the red-ball game."
A straight drive off Ryan Sidebottom, punched past his follow-through, was the shot of a man too good to be playing his red-ball cricket in the second eleven. His own form, combined with Voges' injury, means that Stirling will now get the opportunity to prove as much once and of all.
Just before Stirling had the joy of a maiden first-class century at Lord's, Robson completed his tenth at the ground, on which he averages almost 50. It was an innings of typically understated excellence; Robson's purring cover drives, precise late cuts and sumptuous clips to midwicket have long since been staples of the Lord's summer. There could be more to come in this innings, too: Robson, spilled sharply by Jack Brooks off his own bowling on 31, ended unbeaten on 152, his gluttony undimmed.
Yorkshire were relatively blameless, such is the quality of the Lord's pitch. Curiously, given that Middlesex took lunch on 82 for 2, it is on their bowling performance in the morning session that Yorkshire will reflect on with least satisfaction. It was a little too easy for Middlesex's openers to leave the ball alone - something the recalled Nick Compton did plenty of while taking 24 balls over his first run - and set up a position from which Robson and Stirling could flourish.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts