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."

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  • John on April 7, 2012, 20:07 GMT

    Shame (as a Somerset fan) that the game lost some valuable time on day 1 - maybe just my paranoia but the weather always seems to affect games we're on top in - Sorry if I sound a little biased here. Have to hope VP does his stuff again in the 2nd inns. BTW anyone know why Alf Thom isn't playing?

  • Michael on April 6, 2012, 15:46 GMT

    Lots of bragging from certain Australian fans predictably ensued when Sam Robson made a hundred against a substandard University attack in late March; and Robson has indeed certainly shown in this match that he is of an equivalent standard to many Australian test batsmen these days by getting dismissed by Vernon Philander for very few, which is what happened to most of the Australian batsmen in the recent South Africa-Australia series. @Darren Cook: don't worry, Dockerell's already been quoted as saying that he wants to play tests for England, so if he proves to be any good, England will have him.

  • Dummy4 on April 5, 2012, 19:55 GMT

    Glad to see the only two English batsmen in the Middlesex team are still batting! Also very disappointed that Somerset picked the Irishman Dockrell rather than English prospect Waller...

  • Mark on April 5, 2012, 18:35 GMT

    Middlesex have shown the grit today that has been lacking so often in the past with their batting. They still need to kick on tomorrow to a total over 200, but they have shown enough to suggest that the re-jigged batting line-up could do enough to keep them up, but experience shows that it is a real problem for promoted sides to stay up. Hopefully it won't be a too agonising campaign. A start against Somerset is as hard as it gets; if they can get through this one, the side's confidence will grow.

  • Robert on April 5, 2012, 17:59 GMT

    Very kind of Somerset to give Vernon some practice in English conditions. Not that it will matter.

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