Somerset v Middlesex, Taunton, 1st day April 5, 2012

Philander shows his class

David Lloyd at Taunton

Middlesex 118 for 4 v Somerset

County Championships cannot be won in the first month of the season but, as Somerset know only too well, you can go a long way towards messing up your title chances by losing too many early matches. Cast as favourites last year, they started that campaign with a couple of thumping defeats, to Warwickshire and Lancashire, and never threatened to make amends.

One weather-hit day, limited to 36 overs by morning rain and post-tea bad light, provided insufficient evidence to predict with any degree of certainty how this contest will work out. Indeed, Middlesex in general and Joe Denly in particular should not feel dejected after a battling effort in testing conditions. Put in, they could have crumbled against the new ball but were guided to a far from disastrous 118 for 4 by Denly's excellent unbeaten 64.

What can be said with plenty of conviction though, is that Somerset have signed a belter of a fast bowler in Vernon Philander. And while he is only with the county for a couple of months ahead of South Africa's tour of England, the 26-year-old should do enough damage during that period to keep Marcus Trescothick's team firmly in the title hunt.

When Brian Rose, Somerset's director of cricket, recruited Philander during the winter the seamer was still 'promising'. But 51 wickets in seven Tests, at a shade more than 14 runs apiece, has made him a red-hot property - so hot, in fact, that South Africa would prefer him to be wrapped in cotton wool this spring rather than making hay on the county circuit.

They have urged Somerset to treat Philander with care and consideration, a request which the county will no doubt honour with the future in mind. But, on the basis of 12 high class overs, which yielded figures of 3 for 21, the bowler has every intention of making each delivery count whenever Trescothick throws him the ball.

Despite heavy cloud and damp conditions, three Somerset pace bowlers - Steve Kirby, Craig Meschede and Peter Trego - were kept at bay without huge difficulty. It was a different matter, though, when Philander took centre stage.

His third ball had to be played by Sam Robson but resulted in a thin edge behind while a second spell, after tea, saw Dawid Malan pinned lbw and Neil Dexter bowled off stump by one that appeared to keep a little low. But above and beyond that the new recruit asked a question with almost every delivery - against a county he briefly represented in 2008.

Denly deserves great credit for denying Philander. He is Middlesex's one major signing following their promotion as Division Two champions and he looked in terrific touch from the outset.

Middlesex have been tipped by many to go straight back down. And maybe that is the way it will work out. But there was enough backbone about their batting to suggest they plan to fight mighty hard to stay where their supporters believe they belong.

"People are entitled to their views," said Angus Fraser, Middlesex's managing director of cricket. "Yes, I suppose sides who have come up have tended to struggle in the past but I believe we have a squad that can be competitive if we play as well as we can."