Dexter century dents Lancs hopes
Middlesex 389 for 6 (Dexter 123*, Berg 83) v Lancashire
Neil Dexter continued his good end-of-season form, finishing the day unbeaten on 123 - his second century of the summer - as Lancashire failed to capitalise on a promising start.
It was not the most fluent of knocks but at times Dexter's strokes offered a glimpse into how different Middlesex's season would have been had he found this streak earlier on. He drove and cut well, and was able to forget the wild slashes that surfaced during Lancashire's rare moments of sustained pressure. His score today sees his season come around full circle.
"The last time we played Lancashire, back in May, I only managed 47 and got dropped," Dexter said. "And rightly so - I wasn't playing well and I wasn't in a particularly good place, so it's nice to come back into the first team in good nick, and score a hundred today, against the side I failed to perform against."
It could have all been so different had Lancashire taken one of their two chances off Dexter - two catches of varying difficult, that could ultimately cost them their place in Division One. The first, a sharp diving effort to the left of Steven Croft at second slip, when Dexter had only 11 on the board, was as tough as slip catches come. The second was bordering on the rudimentary, as Dexter had seemingly picked out Ajmal Shahzad, diving in at mid-off, only for the ball to pop out of his grasp. He even took himself to three figures with a cut-shot that perfectly bisected wicketkeeper and first slip and went for four.
"I was a bit fortunate today - a couple of chances went to hand, but things are going my way. As a batsman, you have to capitalise when that happens, and I'm glad I did. These are the types of knocks that you need to remember when you're feeling down about your form; the times when you battle through an innings and make it count for yourself and your team."
Not ideal for Lancashire, who won the toss and put Middlesex in to bat, sensing the pitch and a 10.30am start had something to offer their bowlers. The first two wickets to fall owed little to the track itself - Glenn Chapple trapping Chris Rogers in front for 0 before strangling Joe Denly down the leg-side for 4. However, after Dawid Malan left an Shahzad delivery that clattered into his off-stump, it seemed there may well be enough in the pitch to suggest Middlesex - who had lost their 13th toss in 16 championship games - were up against it.
A solid partnership between Dexter and opener Sam Robson partially allayed those fears, as the pair put on 63 for the fourth wicket, before Simon Kerrigan trapped Robson lbw in the penultimate over of the morning session, one run away from what was probably a deserved half-century. Dexter carried on the good work into the afternoon session as he forged another useful partnership, worth 62 with John Simpson, before he was joined by Gareth Berg, with whom he put on 158.
The pair scored quickly, as Berg swept the relatively disappointing Kerrigan with ease. Kerrigan has enjoyed an impressive season, but he lacked the control that has seen him take 42 wickets prior to this match. At times he was too short, and it did not take long for Berg to pick him apart.
But it would be wrong to blame the loss of initiative on the Kerrigan alone. Shahzad let his frustration get the better of him, persisting on a barrage of short-balls that troubled wicketkeeper Cross more than it did the batsmen, while Kyle Hogg and Tom Smith lacked the control of Chapple, despite Hogg removing Simpson, albeit with another leg-side catch through to the keeper.
Any thoughts that the tea interval would help Lancashire reassess their tactics and stop Middlesex's flow were cast aside, as Dexter and Berg continued about their business, with Berg passing fifty two overs into the evening session. He accelerated as Lancashire toiled without much luck, but fell for a season's best 83, attempting to pull a short ball, wide of off-stump, and instead feathering through to Cross.
The pitch looked to have flattened out as the day went on, which bodes well for Lancashire's reply, but their immediate concern tomorrow will be limiting Middlesex to 450. At times in the evening session, they played like a team that had already meekly accepted relegation to Division Two. How else could you explain the way they handed Steven Crook the 45 runs he found himself unbeaten on at stumps?