Rayner gives Middlesex hope
Nottinghamshire 423 and 22 for 3 (Rayner 2-11) lead Middlesex 300 for 9 dec (Rayner 143*) by 145 runs
Ollie Rayner's debut as a first-class cricketer brought with it membership of a fairly exclusive club when he made a century against the touring Sri Lankans at Hove in May 2006. Now he can proudly wear the metaphorical tie of another society after completing his second career hundred in an innings he had begun as nightwatchman.
Rayner's unbeaten 143 saved Middlesex from being asked to follow on and meant that Andrew Strauss could have a chance to sharpen his slip catching before taking guard for his last pre-Test opportunity to score runs. Indeed, instead of batting to save the game, Strauss may find himself leading a run-chase that does not require a Nottinghamshire declaration after the hosts lost three wickets in 10 overs at the close.
To complete a memorable day, Rayner took two of those wickets, showing no sign of weariness from five and a half hours at the crease even as acting Middlesex captain Chris Rogers chose to bring his offspin into play only three overs into Nottinghamshire's second innings.
Outside Test cricket, where there have been six recorded instances of centuries from nightwatchmen, most memorably the double hundred by Jason Gillespie in Chittagong, records of such occurrences are harder to trace. Richard Illingworth, now a leading umpire, did it three times for Worcestershire. Suffice to say that Rayner's score must at least be among the highest. It would be an enormous surprise, certainly, to find another batsman born in Fallingbostel, Germany, to rival his feat.
Not that he is known as a blocker, anyway. Between his debut knock and this one have been eight half-centuries and this innings was impressive in both temperament and technique. He lost Joe Denly as a partner in only the third over of the morning as Andre Adams induced an edge to first slip, which looked like a significant blow. Having faced seven balls without scoring on Thursday evening, Rayner was at least off the mark thanks to a loose opening from Adams but with a fresh partner taking guard suddenly found himself carrying extra responsibility.
Yet he wore it splendidly as he and Dawid Malan fashioned a solid recovery on a pitch that, in their favour, had flattened out, and against a Nottinghamshire attack that rarely could not build pressure. Stuart Broad, in particular, looked some way off his best.
In his second match following injury, Broad struggled in vain for rhythm. As often as he produced a ball to ask questions of the batsman he delivered another that offered easy runs. Frustration was only to be expected. His habit of sinking his hands into his trouser pockets as the ball sped away across the outfield was so that he could clutch his hand-warmers, apparently, but it rather reinforced the impression that he was not exactly feeling on top of the world.
His colleague, Graeme Swann, looked much the happier of those with the first Test at the back of their minds, although none of the Nottinghamshire bowlers caught the eye as much as Harry Gurney, the pacy left-armer, whose addition to the Trent Bridge armoury looks increasingly like a coup for Mick Newell.
Gurney, confidence buoyed by his dismissal of Strauss on Thursday evening, was the man to break Rayner's partnership with Malan, spearing one into the pads to trap the left-hander on the crease after the pair had added 119.
At 182 for 5 there seemed real doubts that a target of 274 to avoid the follow-on was within Middlesex's scope but, try as Nottinghamshire might, there was no shifting Rayner. He survived a couple of scares in reaching fifty, Neil Edwards putting down a difficult chance at short midwicket off Swann, who suffered more frustration within moments when Rayner cut him fiercely through first slip, where Alex Hales could get only outstreched fingers to the ball. Otherwise, save for a lackadaisical moment where he almost ran himself out, it was an innings of composure and class.
Some of his strokes were of the highest calibre, particularly when he was driving through the covers, and the flick with which he dispatched the suffering Broad into the Bridgford Road stand was almost disdainful. His hundred came up in 182 balls, with 15 fours in addition to that six.
Rayner added four more boundaries, the last of which steered Middlesex safely past the follow-on point at eight down. Once a third batting point was secured, Middlesex declared.
But that was not the end of the fun for Rayner, who bowled Hales with his fifth delivery and then had Swann, whose stint as nightwatchman was somewhat less successful, caught at silly point. With Edwards caught by Strauss at first slip off Steven Finn in between, Nottinghamshire found themselves in unexpected bother and will begin the final day looking slightly vulnerable.