Middlesex's middle-order exposed
Middlesex 175 (Berg 54, Patterson 4-39, Plunket 4-50) and 137 for 4 (Rashid 3-51) trail Yorkshire 390 by 78 runs
An exceptional day for Yorkshire sees them on the brink of inflicting Middlesex's first defeat at Lord's since May 2011 and achieving their first away win in this fixture since 1987. A total of 13 wickets fell as the visiting bowlers bowled tirelessly through the day to expose fragility in Middlesex's middle order that up until now had been shielded by the success of their in-form openers Chris Rogers and Sam Robson.
It was a heavily overcast start and when play was halted at 11:46 for bad light, you did wonder how Middlesex would deal with the extra intervals. Unfortunately for the hosts, that proved to be the only one. Returning 26 minutes later, Rogers soon departed with only 46 on the scoreboard, and with him the faint hope that the follow-on would be avoided.
When it was enforced, the Middlesex captain lasted only five balls into his second innings and, while Robson looked like he was beginning to settle into a groove, he played across the line to a short ball from Adil Rashid that straightened and hurried on to all but end Middlesex's hopes of saving this match.
It is worth noting that of the seven century partnerships Middlesex batsmen have put together this season, only one was scored without either Rogers or Robson, who have featured together in four of them.
It is an indication of just how over-reliant Middlesex have been on their opening pair and how lucky they have been that their underperforming middle order had not cost them. Neil Dexter has been the only batsman outside the top two to reach triple figures, while others like Joe Denly and John Simpson have contributed the odd half-century, but nothing more. Dawid Malan has already paid the price for his paucity of red ball runs, and there is little chance he will be the last.
For all Middlesex's batting malaise, the Yorkshire attack put in a near faultless display. The wickets have been shared about this season, as evidenced by the fact that Steven Patterson has the most (24) despite not having taken five wickets in an innings. His haul of four to finish Middlesex off for 175 is his highest to date.
Ryan Sidebottom was masterful from over the wicket, particularly to the left handers, taking the vital second innings wicket of Rogers, while Rashid took three valuable wickets in the evening session with some bite and turn that will buoy him going into tomorrow. But it was Liam Plunkett who incorporated some versatility into his bowling repertoire to hammer home Yorkshire's advantage.
"A freedom to smash the deck as quick as I can," was the response from Plunkett when it was put to him that his control looked as good as it ever has been. On first change in the morning, the onus was on him to plunge the knife into Middlesex and then twist it with the help of Patterson. It took him three balls, as Rogers nicked behind, before he worked over Adam London and then made a mess of Simpson's stumps with a sharp yorker - "a delivery that can get people out" as he needlessly put it - you would not wish upon the toes of your worst enemy.
His last season at Durham was one he was keen to forget - both on and off the field, where he picked a second drink driving charge - so much so that he went down to Headingley as soon as the 2012 season ended to begin his indoor work. A stint bowling into the relatively flat Adelaide decks helped him find some rhythm and confidence. He says he still bowls the odd bad ball - not that they were on show today - but feels experience has taught him to let them go. "You can always take a wicket with the next ball" his new mantra.
A good night sleep is on the cards for him and the rest of the Yorkshire side, as they return tomorrow with six wickets to take and, perhaps, a modest total to chase, for a first win in 19 attempts against Middlesex and one which will take them to the top of the Championship.