Stokes raises Durham spirits
Middlesex 144 for 7 (Rogers 59, Stokes 3-29) lead Durham 102 (Murtagh 3-27) by 42 runs
The "R" word was being uttered in low muttered tones around Chester-le-Street today, both at lunch, when Durham were 61 for 6, and at tea, with Middlesex 63 for 1. One interested party was even heard to ponder on the last year in which a team was ushered out of Division One of the County Championship without winning a match. Then Paul Collingwood gave the ball to his excellent young allrounder Ben Stokes, and the colour began to return to Durham supporters' cheeks.
For the first two thirds of the day Middlesex had been playing like a side that has by no means given up hope of being in the shake up at the healthy end of the table in September. Proficiently marshalled by Chris Rogers, who won the toss, they bowled excellently and were virtually without fault in the field. Tim Murtagh was the stand out player, taking three cheap wickets, including both Durham openers, and contributing in addition a run out and a catch. Wicketkeeper John Simpson took four catches, the last of his victims being top scorer Michael Richardson, whose edge to third slip somehow made its way out of Sam Robson's hands and into Simpson's gloves.
On a low scoring day, Rogers was one of only two batsmen who ever looked truly established. Opening Middlesex's reply he was busy and pugnacious, his 59 runs including ten boundaries. Just when it appeared that he might lead his side into a commanding position, a delivery by Graham Onions found the edge of his bat and Ben Stokes took a fine low catch at third slip.
The Middlesex middle order is loaded with left handers, and when Stokes took the ball as second change, he took a liking to them, dismissing Simpson and Eoin Morgan for one run between them, having opened his account by having Joe Denly caught at second slip. Collingwood took three catches in the slips, the outstanding effort being a trademark leaping pluck out of the sky to dispose of Simpson.
At the start of the day it soon became clear that Rogers' faith in his attack to establish control of the match was justified. Murtagh was relentlessly accurate, and having trapped Will Smith lbw for no score, proceeded to threaten consistently the outside edge of the bat, and had both Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick caught behind the wicket. Gareth Berg also took three wickets, all three going without scoring, and Steven Finn dismissed Collingwood and Richardson.
Ben Stokes, batting at four, was one of four Durham batsmen to fail to score, being run out by Murtagh. He made amends with the ball, though, ending the day with figures of 3 for 29 from 13 overs. When the Middlesex innings is over, however, it might well be judged that Gareth Berg's all-round contribution has been more significant. He came to the wicket with Middlesex 86 for 5, and proceeded calmly and with assurance to restore some order, scoring 30 and contributing to partnerships of 26 and 32 with Dawid Malan and Ollie Rayner respectively. Berg was still there at the close, but Rayner was not. The last over of the day was Scott Borthwick's first, and Rayner hit the first ball back to him for a return catch.
Middlesex will go into day two with a lead of 42 and three wickets remaining, which on today's evidence might prove to be very handy.