Middlesex kept waiting after fight back
Leicestershire 319 v Middlesex
Greg Smith and Ned Eckersley both hit centuries as Leicestershire recovered from a nightmare start to put the brake on Middlesex's promotion charge in their County Championship Division Two clash at Grace Road.
Leicestershire lost three wickets in the first two overs of the game but Smith (108) and Eckersley (106) helped the home side recover to 319 all out by the close of the first day. Top-of-the-table Middlesex needed 12 points to clinch promotion when play began and they pocketed three of them with seamers Tim Murtagh, Corey Collymore and Gareth Berg claiming three wickets apiece.
Wicketkeeper Eckersley, looking to earn himself a contract with Leicestershire, recorded his maiden first-class century while Smith posted the third championship ton of his career. The two of them shared a fifth-wicket partnership of 131 to keep the Middlesex attack at bay for 42 overs.
All this came after Middlesex made a flying start after winning the toss and putting the home side in to bat in windy conditions on a pitch with tinges of green in it. It took the visitors just two overs to pick up their first bowling point as Leicestershire lost three wickets without adding to the four runs scored by Matt Boyce off the third ball of the morning from Murtagh.
Boyce then edged Murtagh's final delivery to second slip where Ollie Rayner took the catch. Will Jones, on his Championship debut, was trapped lbw by Collymore who followed that up by bowling James Taylor with the last ball of his over.
It left Leicestershire staring at another batting debacle having been bowled out for 34 by Essex and 48 by Northants earlier in the season. But between them Smith, Eckersley and Jacques Du Toit showed real grit and determination to haul their side back from the brink.
Smith and Du Toit, who have both been struggling for runs this summer, began the fightback with a fourth-wicket stand of 84 in 22 overs. They rode their luck at times but punished anything loose to the extent that 52 out of 75 runs came in boundaries.
Du Toit's brisk knock of 42 was ended when he chased a wide delivery from Berg and was caught by Andrew Strauss at slip. That brought in 22-year-old Eckersley to join Smith in the middle and the two of them showed great resolve and concentration to steer the home side towards respectability.
Smith reached his 50 - only his second of the summer - off 96 balls with seven fours and the century stand came up in 34 overs. Eckersley's 50, which included four boundaries, came from 118 deliveries and the next landmark was Smith's 100 arriving off 186 balls with a glorious cover drive that brought him his 12th boundary.
The two of them batted throughout the afternoon but in the second over after tea Smith flicked at a ball down leg side from Collymore and was caught behind.
Eckersley continued to battle on even though wickets fell at the other end and he reached an excellent 100 that included 12 boundaries. He was finally ninth out at 308 bowled by Berg, who then had Nathan Buck caught behind off the final ball of the day leaving both sides with three bonus points.