Strauss runs help stifle Nottinghamshire
Middlesex 300 for 9 dec (Rayner 143*) and 87 for 0 (Strauss 43*) drew with Nottinghamshire 423 (Lumb 162) and 174 for 7 (Mullaney 73, Rayner 4-67)
Regardless of the merits or otherwise of his playing county cricket during a wet English spring, Middlesex were grateful for the steady hand of Andrew Strauss to guide them to a draw at Trent Bridge, where the England Test captain completed his competitive preparations for the series against West Indies by compiling an unbeaten 43.
Like the four innings for his county that preceded it, this one was not without flaws. It should have ended on 26, when he was dropped at the wicket off his international team-mate Stuart Broad, but otherwise demonstrated that he is timing his shots well enough. He hit seven boundaries, two off Broad, who bowled better than previously in the two matches he has played since returning from injury, four off the left-armer Harry Gurney, who dismissed him in the first innings, and one off Adams, all from authentic strokes.
He did not save the game for Middlesex - that honour remains with Ollie Rayner, the heroic nightwatchman of their first innings - but he and Sam Robson for the most part ensured that Nottinghamshire's optimistic visions of a match-winning clutch of wickets from Broad or Graeme Swann were quickly stifled.
In fact, on a flat and relatively dry surface that did not deteriorate to any significant degree, Nottinghamshire's prospects of taking 10 wickets in 51 overs were not particularly realistic. Middlesex, who had been set a target of 298 to win, were not even interested, deciding reasonably enough that having avoided the follow-on on the back of Rayner's unbeaten 143 they would not risk letting their offspinner's finest hour go to waste.
It is not something Rayner will forget, not least because it happened on a day when he confidently expected to have been performing best-man duties at a cousin's wedding in Middlesbrough.
"I was originally in a second-team game against Warwickshire that was rained off, after which it was agreed that I would do two days here as 12th man and then go up to Middlesbrough for the wedding on Friday," he said. "But then we turned up here and it was dry and I got the go-ahead to play. I was not going to turn down the opportunity. When Finny and Strauss came back into the team I looked down the team-sheet and I couldn't see anyone that was going to be dropped except me.
"So when I am selected I want to make myself as prominent as possible. I was not too happy about going in as nightwatchman to be honest. I think I'm a bit better than that now. But when I was out there I thought I'd better make the most of it and Friday was just top drawer."
Not surprisingly, he was a willing interviewee, which could not be said for Strauss, who declined the opportunity to discuss the 100 runs he has made in his five innings over the last three weeks or so. Not that there is a lot he could have said, other than the obvious. He was unfortunate to run into two identically excellent deliveries when Graham Onions dismissed him cheaply twice in the first of his three outings and was undone by another good one when Gurney removed him in the first innings here. It can happen.
Perhaps Michael Vaughan was right to suggest he would have been better off in the nets, although this outing did at least enable him to reacquaint himself with conditions that did not excessively favour the ball. It was too good a surface, in the end, failing to deliver the help Nottinghamshire had hoped might have been there for Swann, the England offspinner, as they sought to secure a fourth win from six matches and cement their lead in Division One.
But at least there were signs of improvement from Broad, who looked as out of sorts in the first innings here as he did at Old Trafford last week. "He bowled as well as he has so far," Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's director of cricket, said afterwards.
"He is a bowler who needs overs under his belt to find his rhythm. Whereas someone like [James] Anderson is able to get it back right away, which comes with experience and age, Stuart needs to bowl. He has been a bit rusty but he felt he bowled better today and that can only hold him in good stead for next week."
Nottinghamshire sit out the next round of county matches, giving Warwickshire the chance to regain top place when they play Lancashire at Edgbaston from Wednesday onwards, and Newell recognises that he will have a selection dilemma when his side meets Sussex, starting on May 25, after Steven Mullaney scored half-centuries in both innings after taking one of the places vacated when James Taylor and Samit Patel were called up for England Lions.
"I expect to have those two back and will have Adam Voges available for the first time, so there will be eight batsman vying for six places," Newell said. "It is a difficult one. Steven lost a bit of confidence last season after being hit on the head but he played very well in this match and made a good case for himself."