Dexter strikes telling blows
Nottinghamshire 278 and 182 for 9 (Adams 50, Dexter 5-27) lead Middlesex 353 (Simpson 97*, Robson 76, Rogers 50) by 107 runs
Ahead of this season it was accepted by most observers that Middlesex had a daunting seam attack that could, on its day, hurt any opposition. By the time they play their next game, against Derbyshire at home, they could have Steven Finn, James Harris, Toby Roland-Jones, Tim Murtagh and Corey Collymore fighting over places.
But not many people included Neil Dexter in their list of daunting seamers. Yet Dexter, a gentle medium-pacer who had never taken more than three wickets in a first-class innings before today, produced a remarkable spell of 5 for 13 in 21 balls to give his side an outstanding opportunity of striking an early blow in the race for the County Championship title.
In a match full of punch and counter punch, Dexter may have struck the decisive blow with a spell of bowling that reduced Nottinghamshire to 93 for 8 in their second innings - a lead of just 28 runs. It was a session of cricket that was as unlikely as it was entertaining.
Dexter may well not have bowled had Middlesex been at full strength. As it was, though, James Harris did not take the field when Nottinghamshire began their second innings due to a minor hamstring strain and, after long opening spells from Murtagh and Roland-Jones, during which Ed Cowan, stuck in the crease, lost his off stump to one that nipped back and Michael Lumb completed a pair after planting his front foot and missing another that nipped back, Middlesex were obliged to turn to Gareth Berg - described as 80 percent fit - and Dexter.
While it was Berg who made the initial breakthrough - Alex Hales edging a beauty that left him late - it was Dexter who proved the destroyer. Perhaps his first couple of wickets owed a little to fortune: Samit Patel, quite recklessly, attempted a furious pull that resulted in a top edge to midwicket, before James Taylor tried to cut a short, wide ball only for it to die on him and result in a thin edge to the keeper. Andy Flower, the England coach who had just arrived at the ground to chat to Stuart Broad, cannot have been impressed.
But from then on, Dexter bowled with skill and discipline. Riki Wessels, batting with a runner due to a hamstring strain, edged a good one that left him before Chris Read, set up by outswing, left one that came back in off the seam. Ajmal Shahzad also followed an outswinger. At that stage, a result in three days seemed likely.
Dexter remains as club captain but, after a loss of form and some personal issues last year, stepped down from the Championship position. While he insisted he wants "to take over captaincy in the near future" he also admitted that he was "a lot more relaxed cricketer without the burden of leadership".
The one blot on Dexter's day was the failure to catch Andre Adams when the batsman had 28. Running in from the square leg boundary, Dexter appeared to have a tricky chance off Roland-Jones under control only to spill it as he hit the ground. It may yet prove a costly miss.
Adams, in typically belligerent style, thumped his way to a half-century in 37 balls. He pulled the next two deliveries he received after his reprieve - both from the unfortunate and flagging Roland-Jones for six and, in partnership with the increasingly elegant Luke Fletcher added 89 runs for Nottinghamshire's ninth wicket. While Adams thrashed at anything close to him, Fletcher showed some genuine class and hinted that, in time, he could move a couple of places up the order. The lead, 107 by the close, should still not be enough, but Middlesex will be far more nervous than they might have been when they begin their fourth-innings pursuit.
"Chasing 100 can be pretty nasty," Adams said afterwards. "There are still dents in the wicket and the ball is moving about in the air and off the pitch. If we set them somewhere between 150 and 170, we have a real chance. Anything over 120 could be a bit tricky. They will be nervous."
The story of Adams' arrival at Nottinghamshire is remarkable. By 2007, he had decided to give up on cricket. "I wanted to do anything but play cricket," he said. "I hated it."
So when he received a phone call from an agent saying he had been offered a county contract, he was quick to turn it down. "I said I wasn't interested," Adams told ESPNcricinfo. "But then the next morning he called again and said 'I've sorted it'. I didn't know what to think.
"But it's been the best decision I've ever made; the best mistake I've ever made. I would only ever have come to Nottinghamshire anyway, as I knew a few of the lads and I had played club cricket here. It's been great."
Earlier John Simpson was left stranded three short of what would have been his first Championship century since April 2011. Although Simpson eased the second ball of the day through midwicket for four, he then became bogged down against an improved Nottinghamshire attack and took 53 deliveries over his next 16 runs.
All the while wickets were falling at the other end. Ollie Rayner, Harris and Toby Roland-Jones were also seduced into driving at balls that left them and Simpson, on 97 when the last wicket fell, made the selfless decision not to farm the strike when the last man Murtagh came to the crease. While Simpson could be forgiven for cursing under his breath when Murtagh fell to a footless waft, he could feel satisfied at the strong position he had earned his team.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo