Middlesex close in on win
Kent 87 and 46 for 3 v Middlesex 153
Sam Robson and Scott Newman put together an almost certainly decisive opening stand of 120 as Middlesex closed in on their fourth County Championship win of the season in a controversial Division Two game against Kent at Lord's. Rain ended play an hour early, with Robson unbeaten on 59, but Middlesex - chasing 167 - need just another 47 runs for victory with nine wickets in hand.
An ECB pitch panel was convened by Tony Pigott, the pitch liaison officer, after he had seen six more wickets fall before lunch on the second day following the 23 wickets that had gone down on day one. After Pigott's announcement only two more wickets fell in the rest of the day's play.
Robson, who made a composed 40 amid the mayhem of the opening day, when Middlesex were bowled out for 153 in reply to Kent's 87 all out, again batted with a sensible mix of watchful defence and selective aggression. Newman, too, played well for 45 until he was caught behind off Joe Denly's leg spin just before the rain arrived.
Pigott called in his fellow pitch officer Jack Birkenshaw, and the ECB's pitch consultant Chris Wood, to form a panel with the power to dock Middlesex points if they decide a well-grassed surface was not up to standard when this game began.
Kent's second innings was prolonged, as conditions eased and the ball got softer, by a defiant last wicket stand of 92 between Azhar Mahmood and Simon Cook, who both struck the first half-centuries of an unusual match. Tim Murtagh took 4 for 83, earning himself a match haul of 9 for 110, and Steven Finn 3 for 53 as Middlesex eventually bowled out Kent for 232 - a good effort after they had initially slumped to 107 for 8 in the morning session.
Kent began the day still 20 runs adrift at 46 for 3 in their second innings and nightwatchman Ashley Shaw was struck a painful blow under the chin when he was squared up by a fierce lifter from Finn. Two balls later, after on-field treatment from the Kent physio, he fended another steepling delivery to third slip where Robson took a good catch above his head.
In the next over, with the total still on 60, Kent lost their fifth wicket when Denly, having battled through to 30, decided to leave a ball from Corey Collymore which ducked back into him and kept a little low to pluck out his middle stump as he shouldered arms. Darren Stevens and Geraint Jones added 38 for the sixth wicket but Jones, having just extra cover driven Murtagh for four to reach 16, played loosely at a full ball and was lbw to the same bowler.
Two overs later, Stevens fell in similar fashion - although he was pushing forward purely defensively - after hitting five classy fours in a 38-ball 28. An unhappy match for James Goodman continued when he edged his fifth ball, from Steven Crook, to keeper John Simpson to complete a pair and, at 107 for 8, the match seemed close to being over.
Wahab Riaz, however, joined his compatriot Azhar in a ninth wicket stand of 33, before swinging once too often at Murtagh and spiralling a catch to extra cover where Jamie Dalrymple took a good catch over his right shoulder running towards the boundary. Then, either side of lunch, last man Cook helped Azhar to add a further 92 in 25 overs.
Both were dropped by Newman in the gully from the first ball they faced - from Murtagh and Finn respectively - but played with great good sense as the ball got older. There were some sumptuous strokes from both Azhar and Cook, with perhaps the pick of them the on driven four by Cook which took the Kent total past 200.
Azhar completed his half-century from 81 balls, with five fours, and Cook had just gone to his own fifty when he edged Collymore to first slip after facing 89 balls and hitting eight fours for his 51.