Middlesex pretensions exposed by Derbyshire
Middlesex 197 for 6 (Voges 69, Higginbottom 3-51) trail Derbyshire 385 (Madsen 138*, Groenewald 49) by 188 runs
It would not be a stretch to call this day the worst of Middlesex's Championship season. Derbyshire will be credited for that, with another display of enough quality and fight to have them believing survival is in their hands. But, just two days into this match, the visitors may have already had their title pretensions exposed by the team propping up the division.
The first session was a particularly damaging one. Despite removing Peter Burgoyne - Tim Murtagh's 50th Championship wicket of 2013 - and Matt Higginbottom in the first 12 balls of the day, the final two wickets cost them 101 runs.
Much of that was down to a handy cameo of 49 off just 48 balls from Tim Groenewald. A capable lower-order hitter, his form with the bat has been so poor that he came to the crease with a season average of six, yet his timely blows helped Derbyshire secure an unlikely fourth batting point. He took a liking to Murtagh and James Harris, taking four boundaries off both, before eventually falling to Ollie Rayner on the fifth ball of the 110th over - a ball after Derbyshire had reached 350.
Groenewald further stamped his authority on the opening act when he snared the prized scalp of Sam Robson in a tricky 30-minute period before lunch. Two overs earlier, Robson became the second man to pass 1,000 Championship runs, a day after Wayne Madsen pipped him to the post.
For a moment, it looked like Middlesex's middle order was on the verge on an uncharacteristic fight-back, courtesy of two players who might be playing their last Championship games of the season. The county believe Eoin Morgan's limited-overs duties with England will prevent him from playing any further part in their season, while Adam Voges could make way for the returning Chris Rogers at the end of the Ashes.
Together, they curbed their attacking intent with varying degrees of success. While Voges looked sure-footed, even in defence, Morgan's desperation to feel ball on bat gave the Derbyshire seamers the encouragement they needed to persist with a fourth-stump line. When Morgan eventually offered a chance, it was put down at first slip.
But he could not penalise Derbyshire for their error, ending his innings three runs later with an all too familiar slap to point - snared by 15 year-old Academy player Callum Brodrick, who was on as a substitute for Shivnarine Chanderpaul - off the bowling of Matt Higginbottom. By the bowler's own admission, it was one of the worst balls he bowled in the day.
Voges was less reluctant for his toil to be in vain, bringing up a gutsy half century in 139 balls. But, when he was adjudged lbw despite taking a good stride down the crease, and Gareth Berg played on to give Higginbottom three wickets - his best innings return in a first-class match - only the most partisan of Middlesex fan could claim that first-innings parity was likely.
A more sensible target is the 39 more runs needed to avoid the follow-on. One crumb of comfort for Middlesex is the return of Steven Finn, who officially becomes part of the match on Thursday when he takes the place of Harris.
While a Derbyshire lead going into the second innings seems a certainty, Finn's presence with the ball, on a pitch that has started to show signs of uneven bounce, could be one of the pivotal points of the season.