Keedy answers Surrey's call
Middlesex 280 for 7 (Dexter 77*, Malan 61, Rogers 55) v Surrey
It was probably fitting, in a season where the age profile of their squad has caused such consternation, that Gary Keedy should come to Surrey's rescue.
There have been times this year when the Surrey squad has resembled the cast of Cocoon. So keen were they to add experience to the team that lost its way last season, that several wise heads were recruited to their dressing room. The squad has, over the course of the season, contained six men aged 35 or over - the team for this game contains four - and there were rumours that only fear of breaching the salary cap prevented the addition of Harold Macmillan. In the end it was decided that Macmillan's death in 1986 might render him something of a liability in the field.
Until about 10.30am, Keedy had been sent to Coventry. With the club having decided to invest in the youthful promise of Zafar Ansari, 38-year-old Keedy was due to play in a 2nd XI friendly match in Coventry; a combined Surrey and Hampshire XI against Warwickshire. There was increasing speculation that Surrey might be prepared to release him from the final year of his contract in order to allow him the chance to gain 1st XI cricket elsewhere - quite possibly at Sussex - and reduce their salary bill. That remains a possibility.
But then Ansari, batting in the nets before play, was struck on the thumb and ruled out of the game. Keedy was summoned back for his sixth Championship game of the season, his first since July, and produced a performance full of skill, control and experience.
Keedy may lack the pace of most modern, international bowlers. But his control remains excellent, he gains pleasing flight and, on surfaces like this, enough turn to trouble the best.
It may prove a highly valuable contribution. With Surrey fighting to avoid relegation, Keedy's three wickets prompted Middlesex to stumble just as it seemed they may build an imposing position and helped Surrey enjoy just about the best of a well-contested first day.
Whether helping Surrey avoid relegation justifies their selection policy is debatable. The argument against fielding so many experienced cricketers is that it blocks the progress of young players. Surrey have several young men - the likes of George Edwards, Matt Dunn (who is currently injured), Dominic Sibley, Jason Roy and Tom Curran - who might flourish if given more opportunity and, in the long-term, you could argue that their development is more important than Division One survival.
If Keedy's first wicket - that of John Simpson turning a delivery outside leg stump to square leg three deliveries after tea - owed something to fortune, the other two were classic left-arm spinners' dismissals. Gareth Berg and Ollie Rayner were both drawn forward and defeated by fine deliveries that turned and took their outside edges.
Some context is required. This is an unusually dry pitch and is already offering assistance to spin bowlers. As the match progresses, it may become something approaching a spin bowler's dream. Batting fourth is likely to prove demanding.
Middlesex may feel frustrated at their return from a day full of toil. Winning the toss at The Oval on such a surface offers a fine opportunity but, despite dominating for periods, too many Middlesex batsmen surrendered their wickets tamely to take advantage of their earlier hard work. Still, for a side that has collapsed so hideously in recent outings - against Derbyshire and twice against Somerset - this represented a step in the right direction.
Perhaps the key wicket came three balls after lunch. Chris Rogers, having taken 58 deliveries over his first 18 runs, then stroked eight fours in his next 22 balls to reach a highly accomplished half-century. He appeared poised for a match-defining innings and, with the equally fluent Dawid Malan, had put together a partnership of 97. It speaks volumes for their fragility of Middlesex's batting, that such a modest stand represents their highest third-wicket stand of the Championship season.
But then Rogers was beaten by a combination of his age and some excellent cricket from Jade Dernbach. Called for a quick, but by no means unreasonable single by Malan, 36-year-old Rogers may have thought that he was running to the safe end. But Dernbach, at mid-off, quickly spotted Rogers' stiff legs and threw to the keeper who completed a sharp run out.
That Middlesex did not completely squander their position was largely due to the dedication of Neil Dexter. Playing as if his bat and pad were welded together, with hands as soft as puppies' ears and with the concentration of a bomb disposal expert, Dexter nullified spin and seam with admirable patience and self control. In the T20 age, there was little eye-catching about his innings, but it was exactly the sort of attritional, determined effort that first-class and Test cricket used to be about. More importantly, it was exactly what his side required. He remained into day two and, if he can take the total above 320, will know that his side have a foothold in the game.
Malan also batted nicely for his first Championship half-century of the season - even if he was guilty of attempting to force the delivery that dismissed him, he could console himself in the knowledge that it was a fine ball. The bowler was Tim Linley, playing ahead of the rested Chris Tremlett, and he vindicated his selection with an excellent display of seam bowling. Linley remains the highest wicket-taker of a Surrey side that contains numerous more glamorous and better remunerated players.
Earlier Sam Robson, whose form has imploded since the speculation started about his future, was dismissed for a duck. Robson, who has not reached 30 in his last seven Championship innings, was caught on the crease by a fine ball from Dernbach that swung in and then left him. Coincidentally, Robson's 21-year-old brother Angus, making his first-class debut for Leicestershire, was also dismissed without scoring.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo