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George Dobell at Trent Bridge
April 11, 2013
Middlesex 297 for 6 (Simpson 77*, Robson 76, Rogers 50) lead Nottinghamshire 278 by 19 runs
It is probably only natural that a club based in the middle of one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Europe will reflect the community it serves. But, even by the standards of London, this Middlesex side is a cosmopolitan bunch.
It contains two men born in Australia, three men born or brought up in South Africa, one born in German, another in Wales and one each from Lancashire and Kent. Even the two London-born players, Tim Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones, have previously passed through the Surrey system. You could make a strong case to argue that not one of this team have developed through the Middlesex development programme.
Middlesex, noting their reliance upon imports, have invested heavily in their facilities in recent times and it is hoped, in time, they will be more self reliant.
But they were grateful for a couple of their imports on the second day of this game. First Sam Robson established a platform before John Simpson built on it to earn Middlesex a position from which they could earn a match-defining advantage on day three.
Robson looks a fine player. There is more than a passing resemblance to Mike Atherton in his determination and the way he looks at the crease, with the fluency through wide mid on and the similarities of the cut stroke most uncanny.
But quite who benefits from his development remains to be seen. Robson, who claims he is uncertain over his qualification status, was born in Australia, played for the U19 side and returned to participate in Grade cricket this winter. He has a British mother, however, and is ensuring he spends enough time in the UK to qualify for England at the start of the 2014 season. In this weather, that probably shows some level of commitment.
Bearing in mind Australia's current dearth of batting talent, however, he could well be one of three men in this match (Chris Rogers and Ed Cowan are the others) considered for national selection some time before then. His options remain open and Australia could do a great deal worse.
Certainly he was reluctant to categorically confirm his commitment to England when asked about it at the close of play. "Everyone wants to play international cricket," he told ESPNcricinfo. "I'm loving playing in England and my home is in London. I'm not looking at anything more than that."
Whether that is a satisfactory situation in a county game that is duty bound to support the development of the England team is debatable. While it might be argued that players like Robson help raise the standard, it might equally be argued that they impede the progress of young men who would be less equivocal in their national commitments. Robson, understandably focused on making his way in the game, is hardly to blame for the unsatisfactory regulations.
Robson, keeping with the theme of this match, battled hard only to then play a large part in his own downfall. Throwing his hands at a wide ball, he edged to the keeper in a spell of play that brought Nottinghamshire back into the game; a shot he later described as "criminal". Middlesex, having posted 106 for the first wicket, then lost five wickets for 69 runs. Still trailing by 103 with their top-order gone, the match was in the balance.
That Nottinghamshire side were unable to capitalise upon that position was largely their own fault. On a pitch offering variable bounce and in conditions offering just enough seam and swing, they delivered far too many release balls to build the requisite pressure. Middlesex accumulated 160 runs in boundaries and another 38 in extras - including 11 from wides and eight from no-balls - as Nottinghamshire's bowlers squandered the conditions and sprayed the ball around.
"We're slightly disappointed," Luke Fletcher, the pick of the bowlers, admitted afterwards. "We didn't put the ball in the right areas enough. It is still moving around and swinging."
Gareth Berg - South African born, but an Italian international cricketer - and Simpson also deserve some credit. The pair added 116 for the sixth wicket with Simpson registering his first half-century in the Championship since September 2011. He drove and cut nicely, but could count himself fortunate that Nottinghamshire's bowlers remained so inconsistent. He had earned his side a lead of 19 by the time bad light ended play 9.2 overs early. Possibly, had Ollie Rayner been dismissed, play could have continued: if is often said you can see clearly once Rayner has gone.
Perhaps the cold contributed to Nottinghamshire's problems. In conditions so cold that even Captain Oates would think twice before venturing out for a walk, the floodlights remained on for the entire day and fielding was an uncomfortable business.
When Nottinghamshire did stick to a decent line and length, they won due reward. Chris Rogers, who may have nudged the Australian selectors once more by passing 19,000 first-class runs on his way to another half-century, perished when he left a straight one that swung back at him before Joe Denly, Dawid Malan and Neil Dexter were all forced onto the back foot by sustained and impressive spells of short bowling and then dismissed when they failed to get fully forward to fuller balls.
While Fletcher may still more resemble the chef at Hooters he used to be than an elite athlete, he bowled with skill and discipline. Ajmal Shahzad, among some pretty horrid stuff, also bowled some excellent deliveries, but Andy Carter, feeding the cut shot, endured a disappointing day and Andre Adams, by his lofty standards, was surprisingly inconsistent.
Middlesex's hopes of pressing for victory could be harmed by an injury to James Harris, though. The club fear he has a hamstring strain, but hope he has been suffering from cramp after his exertions on the first day. It remains to be seen if he will bowl again in the game.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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