Emotional century for Dexter
Warwickshire 21 for 0 trail Middlesex 287 (Dexter 101, Robson 60; Blackwell 4-47)
The last year has been tough on Neil Dexter, its nadir the sudden death of his brother, Keith, back home in South Africa over the winter. It was a devastating blow with which he is still coming to terms and it explained why his century on the opening day of this match touched raw emotions. Keith was only a couple of years older and had been an important influence on Neil's career.
It was his first hundred in first-class cricket since April last year and it came too on his 28th birthday, the first he has celebrated since the tragedy. When his 17th boundary reached the rope he pointed his bat towards the sky. "I've been through a tough year on and off the field and I did feel emotional," he said. "It was good to show that I can still do it. It still feels a little bit raw and to go out and score runs is the best thing I can do to make my brother proud of me. I feel he is always there at my side."
Middlesex won the Division Two title last year under Dexter's captaincy but after a poor start to this season with the bat he asked Middlesex to allow him to step down from the job to concentrate on regaining his form. It has been a slow process. Before this match, he had scored only 306 runs in the Championship and he lost his place in the side altogether for a period, although a weight of runs in second team cricket hastened his return.
This time, although he rode his luck through some streaky shots at the start, the fluency returned. Warwickshire's bowlers generally offered too much width as they continually sought to swing the ball and in time Dexter was able to steer shots wide of the slips to the vacant third man area.
He was not alone in exploiting that part of the field. Of the Middlesex total, some 72 runs were scored there, including 15 boundaries.
Boundaries, generally, were at a surplus. On a slow pitch, the ball presented itself nicely to be hit with a pleasing frequency from a batsman's viewpoint but offered enough bounce and sideways movement to keep the bowlers interested.
There were 35 fours and a six in total, not to mention sets of four byes and four leg-byes, plus 24 in no-balls and wides, which kept the scoreboard moving briskly. After winning the toss, it cannot have been what the Warwickshire captain, Jim Troughton, had in mind.
Sam Robson scored the first 31 of his 60 runs off as many balls but lost three partners before he gloved a rising ball from Boyd Rankin to be caught behind down the leg side by a diving Tim Ambrose, who had shown great athleticism earlier in removing Dawid Malan in similar circumstances, albeit to a less threatening ball, from Chris Wright.
Dexter shared a partnership of 95 with Adam Rossington, the 19-year-old wicketkeeper, who played soundly for his 29 until Ian Blackwell, in the first Championship appearance on loan from Durham, seemed to catch him by surprise with a loopy short ball that he prodded to the fielder at point.
Blackwell went on to have Gareth Berg caught at extra cover off a leading edge by Will Porterfield, who held on to a loose drive from Steven Crook as Middlesex slipped to 267 for 7 at tea. Dexter fell in the over immediately after the break, leg before to a fullish ball from Rankin, who accounted for Toby Roland-Jones in the same over.
Blackwell, who has fallen out of favour at Chester-le-Street, wrapped up when Ravi Patel, a 21-year-old left-arm spinner, drove him to mid-off, finishing with 4 for 47 from 16.2 overs and an air of satisfaction.
"I've got nothing to prove but it has been frustrating to be left out of the Durham side when I want to be playing first-team cricket," he said. "So this has come at a good time for me. It is hard for me to get a spot in the team at Durham with Paul Collingwood at six and Scott Borthwick preferred as the specialist spinner with his fielding and fitness.
"But who knows where it will lead? I have a year of my contract left at Durham and ideally I would like to stay but teams move on and if I'm not in their plans and Ashley Giles wants me to play a move here is not out of the question, although I'm not thinking along those lines at the moment."
Blackwell's wickets, along with Rankin's double strike after team, were instrumental in keeping the Middlesex score below 300, although Warwickshire will have to play well to establish much of a first-innings lead. They will resume on 21 without loss.