Murtagh the ringleader in Middlesex mugging
Middlesex 215 (Robson 68, Clare 4-40) and 80 for 1 (Denly 44*) beat Derbyshire 231 (Godleman 55, Finn 4-51) and 60 (Murtagh 5-12, Roland-Jones 3-4) by nine wickets
For six-and-half sessions, Derbyshire sweated and fought their way into the ascendency against a team plenty have tipped as title contenders. The Division One novices, back in the top tier for the first time since 2000, ground out more than they might have got with the bat and then kept hustling with the ball, for a first-innings lead that could have proved decisive in a low-scoring match. They caught a glimpse of the path to a famous Lord's victory, if only they could hold their nerve. But then, in about the average running time of a movie, as deftly as Keyser Soze springing the coop, "like that, it was gone".
Middlesex now have two wins from two, this comprehensive nine-wicket victory brought about by the usual suspects of their formidable fast-bowling attack, who dismantled Derbyshire in a little over two hours. Skip a session in the top tier and it can hurt you. Tim Murtagh had bowled better than 2 for 68 suggested in Derbyshire's first innings but he was richly rewarded for pitching the ball up in an unchanged 12-over spell from the Nursery End either side of lunch on Friday. Swing and seam deputised effectively for shock and awe, as Murtagh returned devastating figures of 12-7-12-5.
Steven Finn was also appreciably hostile, despite being uppercut for six by Wayne Madsen (he dismissed Derbyshire's captain next ball), while Toby Roland-Jones made sure the innings disappeared in a suitably dramatic puff of smoke by removing nine, ten and jack in consecutive deliveries to complete the first hat-trick of his senior career. The teams had tugged back and forth on the rope for two days but it took only one sharp jerk to bring Derbyshire down in a heap for their lowest score against Middlesex.
It was the sort of bowling display to make Angus Fraser, Middlesex's director of cricket, puff out his chest with understandable pride, although he admitted his team had "mugged" Derbyshire. "To have won two games out of two is a fantastic start but we can still play better," he said, ominously for opponents but enticingly for those studying the fixture list: Middlesex's next game is at home to Surrey in two weeks' time. "From our perspective that's the encouraging thing, we have started well, we're playing some good cricket but we can do better, there's room for improvement."
"I don't think many counties have won a title in April," was his good-humoured response to talk of the Championship (which Middlesex last won when Fraser was a player in 1993). "At the start of the season, our goals were to build on what we've achieved in the last two years and to establish ourselves as one of the top three or four sides in the country and that remains the case."
When 15 wickets fall in little more than two sessions of cricket, hurrying this game to an unexpected three-day finish, you can be sure that polite questions will be asked about the technique and application of batsmen. In fact, they might not have been so polite in the away dressing room, with only three Derbyshire players getting into double figures. Shivnarine Chanderpaul has seen one or two collapses in his time - he featured in two of West Indies' five lowest Test scores, including their 54 all out on this ground in 2000 - but his unflustered, two-hour 18 not out was perhaps the archetype of a man keeping his head while all around others were losing theirs.
No one was blaming Chanderpaul, of course, and Kipling's poem "If" also contains that canonical line about treating the imposters of triumph and disaster the same. Karl Krikken, Derbyshire's coach, will hope his players can do just that, in order to steel themselves for what looks like being a testing season, and although he attempted to shrug off the collapse he was disappointed that a hard-working display had not resulted in a more impregnable first-innings position.
"We felt we competed for two days," Krikken said. "Sides do get bowled out for 60 occasionally, Middlesex bowled well. I don't think we dealt with it as well as we should have done. But the most disappointing part of it, when you look at the game, we were 130 for 3 in the first innings and you hope from that position you push on to 300. I felt we'd done all the hard work and just let it go. Obviously it's disappointing to get bowled out for 60 but I felt we had the match in the ascendency on the first day and we took our foot off the pedal."
Of the pressing need for more runs, Krikken said: "Ultimately it's up to the players to man up with the bat. We've had two fifties this year in 33 knocks and it's just not good enough." This defeat was certainly a schooling and, in a division where there are several fearsome attacks willing to beat up vulnerable teams behind the bike sheds, Derbyshire will have to learn fast.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo