Robson presses England claims
Middlesex 296 for 4 trail Nottinghamshire 326 by 30 runs
It has been less than a week since Middlesex collapsed twice at the hands of Sussex, but a fine hundred from Sam Robson which moved him ever closer to a potential Test debut and a punchy half-century from Eoin Morgan ensured they would not repeat the blip against Nottinghamshire.
Indeed, for all the talk of England's turmoil and Middlesex's soft underbelly, today, for one and a half sessions at least, today was a welcome calm that for both parties gave way for quiet optimism.
News filtered through to the upper tier of the Compton Stand of hundreds for Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, as Robson and Morgan were well into a 203-run partnership - the highest third innings partnership since Chris Rogers and Dawid Malan put on the same amount at Lord's, against Lancashire in August 2012.
Robson is promising to follow a highly-productive Lions winter with more heavy runs with Middlesex. An England debut against Sri Lanka at Lord's, his home ground, is becoming likelier by the day.
Idle natter turned to fantasy England XIs; some were balanced, others not. Others wondered if the hosts could take defeat out of the game and push on for the win. At stumps, Morgan felt it was too early to consider being involved in either.
It was that pair of 2012 that fell in 10th over of Middlesex's first innings, Rogers nicking off to third slip and Malan not moving his feet to nick behind, leading to groans from spectators, who feared the worst. At that stage, Peter Siddle had experimented with some hooping outswingers that had Robson groping outside off stump and Luke Fletcher was rewarded, twice, for getting the ball to nibble from his great height.
"I loved watching him bat," said Morgan at stumps, who revealed that the pair had never shared any time before coming together at 19 for 2. It was a baffling fact given they looked so at ease in each other's company, with styles that complemented each other to exasperate a disciplined Notts attack.
While the right-left combination helped push the bowlers back, it was their differing approach to lengths that really had Middlesex ahead on points. Back of a length deliveries which Robson would leave or defend were being drive, square, by Morgan, with his punchier wrists and springy footwork. Where Robson would bound into the full ones, driving crisply straight and through cover, Morgan would defend or pick up singles.
The afternoon session represented the crowning glory of this bond as they added 132 runs, with little but one awry shot from Morgan, which landed safely between cover and the boundary rider running in from deep point. It was here that Robson brought up his first Championship century of the season.
Very few openers on the county circuit convert toil to grace with as much ease as Robson. Once he got into the groove, he took control of the game and began timing the ball well in front of the wicket. Against Samit Patel, he skipped to the pitch of the ball and placed him expertly through a packed cover region. His return tomorrow on 144 gives Middlesex the edge and, with John Simpson set and Gareth Berg and Ollie Rayner to come, ambitions of a first innings lead.
Morgan kept himself in check, manipulating the field as he does in the one day game, while refraining from shots many feel he should leave to that format. There was one over-the-shoulder dink which earned him three runs, but the evidence from the man himself is that new priorities mean a new approach.
Over the winter he had discussions with Paul Downton, incoming managing director of the ECB at the time, which touched on "where his head was at" in regards to Test cricket. His withdrawal from the IPL and a quick hefty pay-packet was as clear an indication as any that Morgan was given assurances that he was in the reckoning for Test consideration after two years out of that particular game following a horrendous tour of the UAE.
Even with the change of heart towards participating in this year's edition of the IPL, he needed assistance from the ECB and the BCCI so that he could waive his contractual obligations to participate in the 2014 auction. "They [the ECB and BCCI] were very accommodating," he reflected.
As aware off the field as he is on it, Morgan is not fooled by his knocked today. He will know that it is his highest score in Championship cricket since a century at Leicestershire back in April 2009. He will also know that his last first class hundred was a Test century against India in August 2011.
For now, his focus is runs and success for Middlesex. His 86 today has gone some way to ensuring the latter is a very real possibility at the halfway stage of this match.