Topley five restricts Middlesex
Essex 0 for 0 v Middlesex 277
Reece Topley's second five-wicket haul in as many innings was not enough to give Essex the edge against Middlesex in murky conditions at Lord's.
Like Steven Finn a few years ago, Topley's gangly 6'7" frame has drawn plenty of excitement and his 5 for 64 here, to follow up seven wickets in the game against Kent, emphasised his immense potential. Operating from the Pavilion End he pinged the ball down on a length, swung it in and found enough bounce to trouble all the batsmen.
After the blazing sunshine that brought spinners to the fore on the first round of Championship matches last week, proceedings here reverted to more familiar April type. Cloudy, cold and barely a slow bowler in sight. The battery of fast-mediums may have been a bit samey but the ball swung from the first over to the last which made Middlesex's 277, after being stuck in by James Foster, better than it felt.
What will frustrate them is that in testing conditions against a good attack, all bar the captain Neil Dexter and the No.11 Corey Collymore, got in and nobody went on. The lowest score of 15 and highest of 38 tells its own story. Wickets fell in clumps with two in three overs before lunch, three in seven balls just after lunch and two in four balls before tea. Each time both set batsmen fell but Essex were unable to grab the initiative.
Topley was introduced after 12 overs and immediately ruffled Middlesex's opening pair, having Scott Newman dropped at third slip in his third over. He soon found deserved reward though as Chris Rodgers, on his Middlesex debut, edged a drive to a diving Tom Westley at third slip for 25. An over later Topley got his second when a full ball had Newman caught behind for 38, which ended up the highest score of the day.
Having arrested the decline Dawid Malan's bright 29 from 36 balls was ended after lunch by a loose drive as David Masters swung a full ball through a gaping gate and Dexter was lbw for a duck three balls later. It became three wickets in seven balls when Topley had Dan Housego caught at midwicket for 20 and Middlesex were tottering at 115 for 5.
John Simpson and Gareth Berg rebuilt the innings with a smart 66-run stand but they too fell together. Chris Wright, in the side for left-arm-spinner Tim Phillips, made up for a poor day by claiming them both within three balls of each other and again Essex had control. Once more, however, they were thwarted though as Ollie Rayner and Tim Murtagh to until tea.
Ravi Bopara removed Murtagh in his second over after the break but Steven Finn joined Rayner and together they merrily swung Middlesex to a competitive total. Bopara was kept on a couple of overs too many and a blend of flashing edges and thumping drives brought a rapid 60-run stand in 12 overs.
It took Topley's return to break the stand, finish the innings and seal his second five-for in as many games. Finn had made his highest first-class score before heaving across the line to lose his middle stump and Collymore was bowled three balls later. The prospect of an all-England battle between Finn and Alastair Cook was denied by gloomy light which took the players off after 1.5 overs but if conditions repeat on day two, it should be a intriguing battle.
Sahil Dutta is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo