Roland-Jones makes his point in style
Middlesex 12 for 0 trail Nottinghamshire 278 (Cowan 61, Taylor 55, Roland-Jones 6-63) by 266 runs
Roland-Jones could have been forgiven for feeling a little sorry for himself of late. After an excellent 2012 campaign for Middlesex in which he claimed 64 first-class wickets (only Graham Onions and Chris Wright took more), he endured a disappointing Lions tour to Australia, was omitted from England's Performance Squad for this season and then found that he had been relegated to first-change bowler for his county at the start of this match.
He produced the most eloquent of reactions. Bowling with pace, skill and consistency, he claimed career-best figures of 6-63 to give his side a slim advantage in a good-quality fixture that may turn out to have quite a bearing on the Championship season. By the end of the day he had been reinstated as a new-ball bowler.
There is an innate modesty in Roland-Jones. Reacting to his performance at the close of play, he insisted it was "not about making statements" and accepted that Middlesex's new signing and the man preferred to him with the new ball, James Harris, had "staggering statistics" in his career to date.
But if Harris' figures (aged 22, he has a more-than-respectable first-class bowling average of 27.78 and a strike-rate of 52.20 ) are staggering, Roland-Jones' are exceptional. In his 32nd first-class game, the 25-year-old has an average of just 20.33 and a strike-rate of 37.90. It may be too small a sample size to draw too many conclusions, but those are unusually fine figures. The sort of figures generally reserved for bowlers on the brink of international careers. Stuart Broad, watching on from the pavilion for part of the day, might have felt just a little uncomfortable.
Here Roland-Jones gained bounce, swing and generated decent pace. While not all of his wickets came from great deliveries - Ed Cowan flicked one off his pads to square leg and Samit Patel edged one down the leg side - they were, perhaps, the indirect reward for sustained spells of pressure. Certainly he looked the most dangerous and the quickest of the Middlesex attack and produced several deliveries that bounced and left the batsmen sharply that might, on another day, have taken wickets.
But there will be some frustration within the Nottinghamshire dressing room. Having been put in on a green pitch that offered decent pace and carry, they battled hard to establish a decent platform only to surrender their wickets a little too softly for their own satisfaction. Certainly at 158 for 3 and 204 for 4, they were looking at a total in excess of 300.
While Alex Hales, fencing just a little at one he could have left on length, could console himself in the knowledge he had received a fine delivery, several of his colleagues were more culpable. James Taylor, having resisted a fine seam attack stoically for the best part of four hours, squandered his foundations by trying to turn a ball from a support bowler outside off stump through mid-wicket and, consequently unable to cope with the away movement, spooned a catch off the bottom of the bat to gully. Riki Wessels, run out attempting a third, was no more innocent. To compound their errors, they both fell shortly before the second new ball was due thereby exposing new batsmen to the toughest conditions.
The most assured batting of the day came from Cowan. The Australian, almost certain to be back on this ground for the first Test of the Ashes series in three months, showed he had the technique and temperament to shine in such conditions with an assured half-century. Cowan hit his first three balls for four - two delightful covers drives and a steer to third man - and raced to his half-century off only 60 balls. Taylor, by contrast, took 146 balls over his.
Cowan showed excellent judgement over which balls to leave, was impressively quick to come forward to nullify the swing and utilised the remarkably short boundary on one side of the ground to put away the poor ball without fuss. He has previously represented Oxford MCCU and, last summer, scored a century on first-class debut for Gloucestershire. You might say he has done his homework on how to bat in English conditions.
He insisted, however, that preparing for the Ashes was not his "primary motivation" for coming to Nottinghamshire. Instead he said it was more about embracing the experience of playing for a fine side at an excellent ground - "I'd gladly play here every day for the rest of my career" - but admitted it would be "a bonus" if he could go into the Ashes with "some runs on the board".
"Maybe I should have walked off after those first three balls," he said with a smile afterwards. "I could only go downhill from there. But it's a fantastic cricket wicket. We had a good day, but we probably left a few runs in the bank. We had a lot of starts."
Spare a thought for Michael Lumb, though. He had no start at all. Had Lumb had his way, he, along with Hales and Patel, might be at the IPL now, earning a fortune and enjoying the heat and glamour. Instead he is licking his wounds after being given out lbw first ball despite replays suggesting there was a fair bit of bat on the ball before it hit the pad. Cricket can be a cruel game.
Still, he may have been pleasantly surprised by the attendance at Trent Bridge: 1334 - of which 1067 were members - braved the chilly weather to watch this match. It may not compare favourably with attendances at the IPL, but it was a reminder that reports of county cricket's demise are, as ever, some way wide of the mark.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo