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May 16, 2013
Somerset 152 (Murtagh 4-28) and 112 for 5 (Trego 58*, Murtagh 4-22) trail Middlesex 347 (Dexter 82, Rogers 57, Overton 6-95) by 83 runs
There is something impressively businesslike about Middlesex. They came to Taunton with definite Championship credentials. They will expect to return to London by the weekend with that reputation enhanced.
They look brisk, vigorous and confident in their good habits, the smart, well-drilled side down from the big city. Fifteen Somerset wickets in 56 overs tend to do wonders for your belief. Fifteen Somerset wickets in 56 overs at Taunton: such things do not happen.
Tim Murtagh, the leading Division One wicket taker with 28 at 15 runs apiece, so far has eight wickets for spit in the match. He has an insistent, all-brushed-up style, swings the ball and, at 31, is logically approaching his peak. He felt so good in himself that afterwards he even described the day as probably the best in his career.
Victory against Somerset would take them to the top of the First Division with the LV= Championship not far short of midway and encourage hopes of winning their first title for 20 years when Mike Gatting was at the helm.
Gatt would drink to that; in fact, he would probably eat to it as well. He should start tucking in his napkin now because on the evidence of the past two days they have a good shout. If there is disarray and dismay south of the Thames, there is organisation and stability to the north of it.
When the West Country tyro, Jamie Overton, completed the opening day well on the way to a career-best 6 for 95, he had been the only Somerset quick to make much of an impression on a pitch which, although green, did not - as Overton related - do as much as Somerset expected. Then when Middlesex bowled, it presumably did considerably more than they ever imagined.
Murtagh did not find as much swing as he can, nor Toby Roland-Jones as much bounce, nor James Harris as much fortune (certainly first time around), but backed up by committed fielding they took hold of the match within a few hours in a manner that Taunton crowds, more used to run gluts, have rarely witnessed in recent seasons.
For a brief period, it seemed as if Middlesex might even win inside two days as they enforced the follow-on with a lead of 195. Memories of Somerset's failure to beat Warwickshire when Marcus Trescothick failed to enforce the follow-on last month were still strong.
Then Somerset had already bowled 65 overs and Trescothick insisted afterwards that he had no regrets: the bowlers were tired and the pitch was flat. On this occasion, it was a no-brainer; Somerset's first innings had only lasted 45 overs so exhaustion did not come into it and there was enough encouragement to keep Middlesex's bowlers interested.
That prospect of a two-day finish was removed by a crisp half-century from Peter Trego, with Jos Buttler in subdued support, but they remain 83 runs in arrears. Even Tractor resorted to heavy irony as Trego's flurry brought Roland-Jones falling to the floor in his follow-through. "On the way, on the way," he roared. Trego had also put up most resistance in Somerset's first innings before he was ninth man out, having a blast at Neil Dexter.
Murtagh never let Somerset's top order rest. After reaping 4 for 28 first time around, he followed up with 4 for 18 with the new ball to leave Somerset tottering at 35 for 5 by the 11th over.
Arul Suppiah, was lbw without scoring and is yet to reach 20 in six knocks; Alviro Petersen, who will soon be heading off for the Champions Trophy, was averaging 82 in the Championship, but Murtagh has picked him off for 0 and 4 here. James Hildreth and Lewis Gregory also succumbed to Murtagh in both innings, Hildreth at slip, Gregory lbw, the same dismissals twice in a few hours.
It was the sort of beautiful late afternoon that Taunton delivers as invitingly as anywhere on the county circuit, the sunshine and blue skies enhanced by the fraternal nature of the crowd, but two old Somerset boys had seen enough as they headed for the exit, walking sticks a swinging. "They should bring back Rosey," burred one of them. If they weren't exactly angry they were certainly, to resort to an old Somerset phrase, a bit begrumpled.
Suitably, they were walking through the Brian Rose gates at the time, named in honour of their former director of cricket who stood down at the end of last season because he was weary of finishing second - or because he knew this Somerset side was beyond its best.
If his replacement, David Nosworthy, is to gain the same affection, the old boys muttered, he would be advised to cut down on the management speak to explain what looks likely to be a rare Somerset failure in front of their own supporters. They don't like too much of that around here.
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