Comfortable win boosts Middlesex title hopes
Middlesex 168 (Dexter 48, Onions 7-62) and 147 for 4 beat Durham 143 (Finn 4-46) and 171 (Stokes 51, Rayner 3-25, Murtagh 3-32) by six wickets
It took only 63 minutes on the penultimate day for Middlesex to register their fifth win of the season. After two days in which you could set your watch to the fall of wickets, there was a greater sense of calm given the numbers needed for victory - the home side's 44 runs versus Durham's unlikely eight wickets.
Not even Adam Voges' mistimed hook - perhaps a tribute to the false shots that have characterised this match - created any doubt about the result, as Eoin Morgan and Neil Dexter brought the scores level, before the Middlesex captain found point, leaving John Simpson the honour of getting Middlesex over the line.
A second win in a row since his side were humbled on a flat Uxbridge pitch by Warwickshire, Dexter could not help but express disappointment at the manner in which Middlesex ceded their advantage on the first day and early in the morning of the second.
"I think when you get a side out for 143 in the first innings you want to bury them and unfortunately we didn't," he said after the game. "We got a bit of a lead, which was decent, but yesterday morning was disappointing again to finish our first innings in just 45 minutes.
"In the past have got into some really good positions against sides and released some pressure, which is what happened in the first innings. That's one area we have got to work hard at.
"The batsmen had a good chat after Uxbridge and at the end of the day you've got to remember to do the basics right and appreciate that the red ball swings a bit more. If you look at the dismissals that have gone in this game, not many have been bowled - batsmen have pushed at ones that aren't there, just ahead of their pads."
Both sets of batsmen were guilty of trying to force the ball on a pitch that started played at two paces, particularly when the ball was pitched short. Dexter afforded his batsmen some leeway with the suggestion that jumping from Twenty20 cricket to four-day cricket is a transition that is always challenging, but Durham's captain, Paul Collingwood disagreed, although he did rue the lack of a standard-bearer within his youthful line-up.
"We have been around long enough to be able to shift our mental side and adapt," he said. "Our batting skill levels and application have let us down but it's a fairly inexperienced batting line-up and we all make mistakes.
"We don't usually all do it in the same match as we have here. Someone usually puts his hand up in these sort of tight games."
One thing both could captains agree on was the state of Division One, which looks to be heading for an exciting conclusion, with four teams - including these two - firmly in the hunt for top spot.
With a game in hand over Yorkshire and Middlesex, and two against Sussex (whom they have to play twice), Collingwood was clear that defeat at Lord's was a setback, and nothing more.
For Middlesex, now 11 points off the top, albeit with the conclusion of Yorkshire's match with Warwickshire still to come, their run-in is certainly the most favourable - their next four games coming against the bottom four, culminating in a showdown with Yorkshire at Headingley. There is reason to believe they are good value for a title push, certainly with the imminent return of Toby Roland-Jones and James Harris from injury.
After coming through a thorough bowling session against Middlesex's batting coach Mark Ramprakash - for so long the sternest test of a bowler's nerve and fitness - they are due to feature in Middlesex's YB40 programme, starting next Sunday against the Unicorns.
Indeed, they may also have Steven Finn for a bit longer, after Graham Onions' two wickets on Sunday gave him match figures of 9 for 102. The national selector, Geoff Miller, and Ashley Giles, England's limited-overs coach, got a good look at both when they were here on the first day and, with Chester-le-Street hosting the fourth Test, Onions' inclusion in the squad alone should be guaranteed.
There is a feeling in the Middlesex camp that, while he still has a couple of issues to sort out, Finn has been on the end of some rough treatment from the ECB. He certainly bowled with vigour - Dexter championing the extra bounce in his approach from the Pavilion End - and gave a good account of himself.
If England do decide that he needs more time away from the side, Middlesex will gleefully take Finn back, albeit with a degree of sympathy for him.