Somerset v Middlesex, Taunton, 3rd day May 17, 2013

Murtagh and Middlesex prove title credentials

Middlesex 347 (Dexter 82, Overton 6-95) and 72 for 1 beat Somerset 152 (Murtagh 4-28) and 265 (Buttler 85, Trego 82, Murtagh 6-49) by nine wickets
Scorecard

The last time Somerset lost a Championship match at Taunton, the ground - not to mention the town centre hostelries - rang to raucous Lancastrian celebrations as the Red Rose celebrated their first outright title for 77 years. This time the ground was deserted as Middlesex unexpectedly escaped the showers to pull off a three-day victory after 7pm. But empty ground or not, 20 months later, the town might just have played host to another Championship winner.

Middlesex went top, ahead of Durham, by virtue of this victory and with a third of the season gone the table is beginning to take an intriguing shape. Nobody looks more serious contenders than Middlesex. Durham are unexpected leaders, Warwickshire's innings defeat against Yorkshire raised many questions about their ability to defend their title, and Somerset, so often nearly-men, will be grateful just to stabilise their season after this nine-wicket defeat.

Dave Nosworthy, Somerset's director of cricket, is still awaiting his first win after five matches. After eight weeks, he will be wondering whether the job is bigger than he realised. It was never going to be a matter of ticking things along; it was a matter of rebuilding with very few players clamouring for recognition in the 2nd XI.

"Middlesex played very well and outplayed us," he said. "That is two games in a row where we haven't pitched and we will have to reassess things. Yorkshire was disappointing and now this, but sometimes the biggest punch comes from the back foot and we'll see what sort of characters we've got. The individuals need to pinpoint themselves.

"We haven't played terrible cricket but after five games we should have won two of them and that lingers in the back of the mind.

"Middlesex look to be quite a strong outfit. They look a very balanced and a settled side and playing some quality cricket. At the start of the season I don't think you could say who was going to win the thing - it was an open race - but they have shown some good early form."

Somerset could at least draw heart from the signing of Dean Elgar, who replaces his fellow South African batsman, Alviro Petersen, while he is on Champions Trophy duty. He is expected to make his debut against Yorkshire in their next home Championship fixture at the end of the month. Nosworthy called him a fighter - and he needs others to show similar resolve.

The game was all but up for Somerset from the second afternoon when they collapsed to 35 for 5, still 160 behind. Peter Trego and Jos Buttler brought a veneer of respectability with a pair of 80s, Somerset adding another 143 to their overnight 112 for 5 as the clouds began to build.

This was not a game when Tim Murtagh could be kept out of the picture for long. He had Trego caught at short midwicket and later he rounded up the Somerset innings by having Steve Kirby lbw to the first over with the second new ball to finish with match figures of 10 for 77 - the third 10-wicket haul of his Championship career.

The resistance meant most for Buttler, whose chequered Championship career has been strewn with careless dismissals, but who not for the first time this season showed a growing inclination to play in a more considered fashion and who bedded down dutifully to make 85 in nearly four-and-a-half hours.

Perhaps this innings, even in defeat, will one day be seen as a breakthrough in the longer format. He is such an innovative and exciting one-day player that one wonders if he can ever really enjoy playing in such a restrained fashion, but he is beginning to broaden his range.

Beneath the helmet one imagined that he might have the baleful expression of a captured antelope pining for the great outdoors. Somerset will hope that his discipline was proof of his gathering maturity because they need all the talent at their disposal to rescue a disappointing start to the season.

The longest delay on an afternoon of heavy showers ripped 35 overs from the day. There was a time when it seemed inevitable that Middlesex would be back tomorrow, but the umpires' determination to stick around proved shrewd. There were a few wet areas in front of the Ondaatje Pavilion and when Trego slipped with 17 runs needed, it was enough for the captain, Marcus Trescothick, to have a word and the umpires to be forced into a confab.

The extra half-hour was claimed at 39 for 0 with Middlesex 32 short and a comfortable rate of four an over ahead of them. But there was enough in the pitch for Somerset to take a prize scalp or two and Jamie Overton bowled Chris Rogers in the first over of overtime. Rogers has always been one of the doughtiest batsman on the circuit, but since his selection for Australia's Ashes tour, his wicket has become a collector's item; it was another happy moment in Overton's eye-catching season.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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