Murtagh's five puts Middlesex on top
Middlesex 99 for 1 trail Surrey 144 (Murtagh 5-37) by 45 runs
For all the talk of Kevin Pietersen and, to a lesser extent Rory Hamilton-Brown, it was two unsung returnees who gave Middlesex an overwhelming advantage on the first day at The Oval.
Neither Tim Murtagh nor Toby Roland-Jones enjoyed the Surrey careers they would have hoped for, but with consistent and late seam movement they combined to bowl Surrey out for a meagre 144. With Middlesex 99 for 1 by the close of play, it was hard to envisage anything other than their fifth consecutive championship victory against Surrey.
The contrast between the performances of Murtagh and Roland-Jones, compared to Surrey's seamers, must have given the hosts great cause to regret that it took moves to Middlesex for them to fulfill their potential. Murtagh's promise always exceeded his performance during his Surrey career - though he once claimed 6 for 24 against Middlesex in a T20 game - and he left after 2006 with a first-class bowling average of 37. But for Middlesex he has been consistently outstanding, claiming 342 wickets at 25. Murtagh's bowling appears unobtrusive at times but, such is his accuracy and nip, that all he needs is a little movement to be lethal. This haul of 5 for 37, featuring two wickets bowled, two caught in the slips and one lbw, was the perfect showcase of his qualities.
Given Roland-Jones' age - 24 - his departure will irk Surrey fans even more. As recently as 2009, he featured for Surrey second XI, but Middlesex decided to offer him a contract. He has certainly vindicated their decision since, as an outstanding record of 110 first-class wickets at 21 apiece attests. The bounce he generates from his 6ft 4ins frame and, above all, his nagging line and late seam movement have consistently embarrassed Surrey: his 3 for 38, which included three of Surrey's top four, took Roland-Jones' record against Surrey to 22 wickets at an average of 11. Comparisons with Steve Finn are not wholly unjustified.
But, outstandingly as Middlesex bowled, there was no excusing the ineptitude of some of Surrey's shots. For the second consecutive championship match, they followed the Steve Waugh dictum of winning the toss and batting - before proceeding to be routed. They could certainly have done with Pietersen, who wasn't released by the ECB to play in this game and has apparently gone to Portugal on holiday. Rory Hamilton-Brown did return for his first Championship game since relinquishing the captaincy. He would not have planned to walk in at 28 for 3 but such is Surrey's batting form that he can't have been too surprised. Hamilton-Brown made just two singles before in-movement from Murtagh exposed an injudicious gap between bat and pad to remove middle stump.
Having failed to pass 160 in three innings, including the CB40, at Durham, Surrey seldom looked as if they would do so on this occasion. Rory Burns and Zafar Ansari have both provided evidence of their chutzpah on occasions this season but ultimately the two have a combined age of 41 and are not natural openers. Under cloudy skies their failures were less than surprising, even if two Ansari straight drives off Roland-Jones highlighted his compact class.
A stoppage due to rain after 9.3 overs was to Middlesex's advantage, as it allowed Murtagh and Roland-Jones to extend their opening spell to 23 overs. By this time Roland-Jones' tight line had accounted for both Zander de Bruyn - whose duck meant he has now passed 20 in only three of 21 innings this season - and Arun Harinath, for a stoic but seemingly strokeless 14, both of whom fell lbw.
Relief of sorts arrived with the introduction of Neil Dexter and Steven Crook, who were unable to maintain the parsimony. But this only made Steven Davies' aberrant swipe outside off-stump against Dexter all the more frustrating. Jason Roy at least played with some assurance. Understandably given the struggles of his team-mates, he sometimes resorted to one-day mode, with one "flamingo" whip off Dexter almost a parody of KP, albeit not of the Twitter variety. His was a well deserved half-century; that Murali Kartik's streaky 23 was the second top score yet another indictment of Surrey's batting.
While Gareth Batty's decision to bat first appeared highly dubious - given recent batting woes, overcast conditions and a Middlesex bowling attack well suited to exploiting them - he actually had little choice. By opting to select two spinners and only two frontline quicks - Jon Lewis, with five wickets at 62 since the T20 break, was omitted - Surrey gambled everything on batting first and watching the ball turn later. If such a strategy suggests desperation, desperate is increasingly what Surrey are as they attempt to avoid returning to Division Two.
With utter inevitability, the sun finally broke out when Middlesex started batting. Although there was some turn for Murali Kartik, Middlesex's opening pair of Chris Rogers and Sam Robson looked utterly assured. Rogers, along with Simon Katich, is probably the best overseas batsman available who is not wanted by his country. Driving and cutting to great effect, it was rather surprising when he was dismissed for 56 in the penultimate over to a fine leg-stump yorker from Jade Dernbach, triggering exuberant celebrations that revealed Surrey's frustration. In ending just 45 runs behind with nine wickets remaining, Middlesex could reflect on a dominant day.