Finn and Murtagh leave Sussex struggling
Sussex 242 for 8 (Joyce 77, Brown 70, Murtagh 4-41, Finn 3-65) v Middlesex
Steven Finn made enough of a mark on the first day of this contest to indicate he is ready, willing and able should England decide to rest a fast bowler or two and make changes ahead of next week's final Test against West Indies. But if Middlesex go on to win this game then the new-ball burst of Tim Murtagh may prove to have been the crucial element.
Sussex, with barely time to draw breath following Monday's Championship loss to Nottinghamshire, were staggering horribly inside the first hour after winning what appeared to be a good toss on a bright, sunny morning. Murtagh, hitting the seam instantly while Finn searched for his radar following a week on international 12th man duty, soon had them 16 for 3.
The visitors recovered pretty well, with 70s from both Ed Joyce and Ben Brown and a more than useful 38 by Naved Arif, to finish in touching distance of 250, but Middlesex look to have the edge.
Murtagh is one of those too often unsung county stars - a bowler who rarely delivers a bad spell but does not often pick up a stack of wickets. And, when he does, a 'bigger' name usually puts him in the shade.
Today, understandably, most eyes - including, presumably, those of watching national selector Geoff Miller - were on Finn. And the big lad could not be faulted for effort, pace or menace once he found his range. Finn finished the day with 3 for 65 from 23 overs but, quite properly, Murtagh outdid him with 4 for 41 from 20.
The way this match began we might easily have been back in April when wickets were tumbling here, there and just about everywhere and, horror of horrors, Surrey boss Chris Adams was being highly critical of the Lord's pitch used for his side's nerve-tingling three-run defeat. We might have been back in April, but we were not.
For a start, there was real warmth coming from this morning's sun. And, regardless of what may or may not have happened at HQ a month or so ago, the five wickets which Sussex lost before lunch, can be put down to a mix of skilful new-ball bowling, poor shot selection and leaden-footed stroke-play.
Certainly, Sussex were happy enough to bat first after winning the toss - especially their bowlers, most probably. Given that the domestic season starts in early April and runs through to mid-September, there seems no real excuse for any team to have to play on nine out of 10 days, starting with a day-night game.
They looked to be in a bit of a trance, for sure, although the in-form Chris Nash could argue that he would do well to survive the beauty he received, second ball up, from Murtagh whenever or wherever he received it. Lifting and leaving the right-handed Nash late, it brushed the outside edge.
That set the tone, really. While Finn had a bit of trouble with his direction early on, Murtagh regularly hit the seam and drilled a challenging line on or just outside off stump. Add some less than sparkling batting - Mike Yardy played a horrible shot away from his body before Luke Wright drove ambitiously without much foot movement - and Sussex were in all sorts of bother at 66 for 5 after 90 minutes or so.
Thanks to opener Joyce, playing against his old county, and Brown, meltdown was averted with a stand of 81. But both eventually fell to Finn (Joyce caught down the leg-side and Brown edging a fast, full delivery to slip) and it needed Arif's contribution to prevent Sussex from falling away again.
As always, it will be a lot easier to judge how much of a foothold the visitors have given themselves once both teams have batted once, but - for now - they are just about hanging in there.