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Jon Culley at Lord's
April 20, 2012
Middlesex 132 for 5 (Dexter 65*) v Durham
Naturally, the focus of most attention here was Andrew Strauss, a captain in need of runs, even in his own analysis. Yet his failure overshadowed the success of the other captain who finds himself in the same rocky boat.
Unlike Strauss, Neil Dexter was not out second ball. Indeed he was not out at all, even though he had some luck, and to be unbeaten on 65 at the end of a perilous, if abbreviated day for batting was as much a triumph of note as Strauss's short innings was a headline-making misfortune.
Given that the England captain appeared and disappeared while many in the ground were not settled in their vantage points, the details need not be lingered over for long. As Graham Onions steamed in with intent from the Pavilion End he shouldered arms to the first ball, wisely enough, but the second gave him no such option, swinging in the air and then nipping back off the pitch to beat the left-hander's tentative push and connect with the top part of off stump.
It doesn't matter that much for Strauss. Weather permitting, he will have five more chances to score some Championship runs before the first Test against the West Indies. It would be a surprise if he did not make the most of one of them at least, but you suspect in any event that he would need to register six noughts for the possibility of dropping him even to be considered.
It might matter more for Onions, who is anxious to make it as difficult as possible for the England selectors to ignore him, even though it would probably take an injury to one of the incumbents for him to win back his place. Under the watchful eye of David Saker, the England bowling coach, he took the wickets of Joe Denly and Dawid Malan as well as Strauss.
He places himself at about sixth in the pecking order currently, having gone to the UAE as cover for the Pakistan series. "But fast bowlers get injured, they can struggle for fitness and form as well so I just have to make sure I'm ready and bowling as well as I can," he said. "I ran in quite nicely today and it was fun, I enjoyed it."
Onions, who took five wickets here on his Test debut in 2009, against the West Indies, might still be in command of a place but for the career-threatening back injury he suffered the following year. He stresses, however, that there is no lasting weakness. "I've been bowling for the last 18 months and I don't think about it," he said.
He admitted that it was a helpful pitch but the ball that did for Strauss would have been a peach on any conditions. "It was a decent ball," he admitted. "It swung a little and nipped back. Andrew is a great player and it was good for me and the team to get him out so early."
Worse was to follow for the home side. Denly was lured to play at a ball that left him at the end of Onions's third over, edging to first slip, and from the first ball of the next, from Callum Thorp, Sam Robson unwisely went after a widish delivery and nicked to second, at which point Middlesex were 2 for 3.
Mitch Claydon dismissed Chris Rogers, the temporary captain, with his first ball at the Pavilion End as Onions took a breather, further reducing them to 28 for 4.
Rogers has the reins for the moment because Dexter, with single figure scores in seven Championship innings before this one, wants to focus on his batting without the distractions of captaincy, for which reason he will sleep much more easily.
Conditions never became much easier, even in the brief sunny interludes, but after a scratchy start, during which he probably should have been out for 4 when Thorp, in the gully, failed to cling on to a chance off Ben Stokes, he even began to play some shots and even look confident.
There was another chance, on 20, when Stokes, at backward point, got a hand to a hard outside edge off Claydon, but it would have been a very good catch and the luck, on that occasion, was deserved.
When he reached 50 it was for the first time in the Championship since May last year. He lost a partner when Onions produced another gem to find the edge of Malan's bat, but their partnership added 55 for the fourth wicket and another 49 have gone on to the total since, with John Simpson steady at one end as Dexter raised his boundary count to 13.
The weather may preclude a result in the end but any score above 200 for Middlesex will help team morale, even though it may leave Strauss alone with his thoughts.
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