Robson's lead is not followed as Derbyshire hit back
Middlesex 180 for 6 (Robson 68) trail Derbyshire 231 (Godleman 55, Finn 4-51) by 51 runs
After their victory at Trent Bridge last week, talk of Middlesex's title credentials was dialled up a notch but Sam Robson acknowledged his side have "a lot of work to do" in this match against last year's Division Two champions thanks to a concerted bowling display from the Derbyshire attack.
No one flourished in particular but there was enough discipline and nous to create problems for a batting line-up that glitters in the sunlight but can appear a little diffident when the clouds blow over. The critical passage came after lunch, shortly before rain lashed the ground and caused a two-and-a-half hour delay, as Joe Denly, Dawid Malan and Neil Dexter all fell to different bowlers in a 22-ball spell.
Robson, who recorded his third half-century in as many innings, was the only member of the top six to show the required patience and technique, as cloud cover provided just enough assistance for the Derbyshire pacemen. Tim Groenewald was particularly impressive, while Jon Clare and Mark Turner bowled lively spells, before an unbroken seventh-wicket partnership stabilised the Middlesex innings.
While Chris Rogers received a good ball from Groenewald, trapping him half-forward, and Dexter was unfortunate to play on to his stumps via an inside-edge on to his pads, the other wickets to fall were more avoidable. Denly hit five boundaries in his first 20 balls and looked beautifully balanced at the crease only to edge to slip attempting to force a Clare delivery off the back foot, while Robson, Malan and John Simpson were all caught playing injudiciously outside off stump.
For Robson it was particularly disappointing, after three hours of graft. Billy Godleman had suggested on Wednesday evening that judgement on Derbyshire's efforts should not be passed until both teams had batted and only Robson seemed to have discovered the hermetically sealed bubble occupied by his Derbyshire counterpart for much of the first day - although at 124 balls, his innings was a mere stripling by comparison. While such diligence may seem more becoming of an actuary or quantity surveyor, it doesn't hurt batsmen to assiduously tick the boxes during the English spring.
Robson, who is Australian born, was last week tipped as an England prospect by his captain, Rogers, and he played impressively again, driving with confidence and then opening the shoulders to pass 50 with three boundaries in an over from Tony Palladino. Geoff Miller, the national selector, was an interested observer during the morning session and although Robson said thoughts of an England career were "miles and miles from my mind", he did go so far as to confirm an interest.
"For sure, yeah," was his straightforward response to being asked whether he had made a decision on his allegiance. "I've been in England for over five years now, I moved over when I finished school. I love living in London, love playing at the home of cricket and for Middlesex. London and England is where it's at for me at the moment."
Those last three words may hover tantalisingly for those of a green-and-gold persuasion and, to add a touch of spice, it was suggested among the Middlesex staff that Robson's start to the season was the best for the county since Phillip Hughes made 574 in five innings ahead of the 2009 Ashes.
Robson's runs, though less spectacular, may be of the more valuable sort, in being hard-won. His 68 gave Middlesex a solid platform in attempting to overhaul 231 and the deficit at the close was one run more than the 50 put on by Groenewald and Turner for Derbyshire's last wicket. That alone suggests a more commanding total could have been in sight.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo