Record-breaking Middlesex move ahead
Middlesex 166 and 283 for 2 (Rogers 131*, Robson 129) lead Surrey 338 by 111 runs
Chris Rogers and Sam Robson set a new record for the highest ever first-wicket stand for Middlesex against Surrey on a day that saw the home side wrestle back the initiative from their south of the river rivals. It was in the 69th over that the record set by Pelham Warner and James Douglas in 1907 at The Oval was passed, and owed as much to the openers' pro-active start as it did to a pitch that became much easier to bat on.
In an elongated afternoon session, Rogers and Robson compiled 161 runs in 48 overs, in a determined yet comfortable manner. They continued on their merry way in the evening with such nonchalance that the passing of Surrey's total was met with nothing more than a cursory glance at the scorecard from the spectators. While their hundreds were reached at the same pace - both took 185 balls - the nature of their innings bore the imprint of their respective personalities.
Robson displayed his aptitude for driving before bringing out his dabs behind square on both sides of the wicket. If you'll allow the typecasting, he is the evolving opener; growing into his innings through a well-rounded attacking game rather than bitty accumulation. Obviously that comes with its own pitfalls - his conversion rate of fifties to hundreds may never get above the one-third it stands at now - but he is an exciting prospect who should be encouraged to play his game. His decision to try and hook Zander de Bruyn cost him his wicket, but he had played a fine hand.
"Been there - done that - did it again" would be the pithy 1990s subtext to Rogers' first century for Middlesex against Surrey. The majority of his runs against the seamers came through third-man with a deliberateness that Jade Dernbach couldn't quite believe; anything on his legs was greatly received. Even when he was driving crisply yet straight to the fielders at the end of the day, he would wryly walk away from his crease, before returning to push the next ball around the corner for a couple. It was his career in a nutshell; trial and error - hold the error.
The day started with Surrey taking the one remaining wicket before Tim Murtagh and Corey Collymore could add the 28 runs needed to avoid the follow-on. Unsurprisingly, with his bowlers well rested and rain predicted for Sunday, Graeme Smith put Middlesex back in. There was rain in the air; a light drizzle greeted spectators upon their arrival before the start of play and a bigger, longer downpour came with Middlesex 29 without loss.
A 40-minute delay and an early lunch later, in muggier conditions, Dernbach drew the first false shot with Rogers edging a difficult chance to Wilson at second slip, which had the Irishman diving to his right and slightly forward, but failing to hold on.
At the other end, Chris Tremlett looked strong and quick, bringing his length forward and hitting the bat hard. Watching him the previous day from square of the wicket, the 6ft 7 inch bowler had a notable stop after delivery; an unusual hop, seemingly dissipating any kind of forward momentum. Today he bustled through the crease with greater fluency - the hop making way for a couple of ferocious strides. However, Rogers used this extra pace to slap a couple of fours behind point as he and Robson took Middlesex past fifty with minimal fuss.
The springiness of the surface on the opening was a faint memory as the pitch played with more conventional bounce which Robson in particular thrived on. He didn't have to force the issue, instead timing the ball well on the front foot and, as he moved into the 30s, working the ball through cover-point and in front of square leg off Tim Linley and Dernbach.
He moved past fifty for the fourth time this season with his ninth boundary and Rogers soon joined him in the fifties, though not before a little scare when he edged again to second slip, this time well short, off the bowling of Linley. Save that moment, Linley was ineffectual and at times looked like he was returning a favour to Robson.
As both players motored on in the evening session, Smith got creative in the field. When Robson was startled by a short-ball from Dernbach, Smith encouraged his bowler to persist and supported him with five men on the leg-side; a wide mid-on, midwicket, deep square leg and two behind square - one of whom was a leg-slip.
Considering the circumstances and the protagonists - an Australian batsman in the process of qualifying for England and a South African-born English bowler obeying the orders of his pugnacious yet affable skipper - it was very much Bodyline-lite, and when Dernbach was slightly wide with his short-ball, Robson gleefully moved to 96, and past 3,000 first-class runs.
Rogers was not keen to play the short ball, choosing to duck and dive, which only infuriated Dernbach further; he thought he might have had Robson caught off an inside edge but it wasn't given. The 200 partnership came up with both batsmen on 98 and the only question was who would get there first. In the end it was Rogers with a punch through cover, before Robson followed with a scampered single to midwicket.
With an overnight lead of 111, Middlesex's middle order have the chance to make amends for their earlier misdemeanours and give their bowlers enough runs and - importantly - time to push for a win. The corresponding fixture, albeit on a less accommodating pitch, produced a thrilling finish in Middlesex's favour, and history suggests it may not just dribble to a draw.
If the Sunday of a long weekend has you at a loose end, look no further than Lord's - where adult tickets £5 and it's free for over-65s and under-16s - for the finale of what has been a compelling encounter.