Robson closes in on England debut
Nottinghamshire 326 (Taylor 62, Finn 5-91, Harris 4-80) and 224 (Murtagh 5-61) lost to Middlesex 439-9 dec (Robson 163, Morgan 86, Simpson 108*) and 112-0 (Rogers 63*, Robson 41*) by 10 wickets
A brace of collapses at Hove and a week of soul-searching has resulted in a thumping 10-wicket win for Middlesex against Nottinghamshire. Played on a good Lord's pitch, which got faster as the game went on, the home side produced a clinical day four display to bowl Notts out for 224, giving them a chase of just 112.
It was as routine as you like, started and finished by Chris Rogers and Sam Robson, a duo that have done it all before - in 2013 alone they had five Division 1 stands of 100 or more. Today they had their first of the season inside 19 overs to register Middlesex's first win of the campaign.
Rogers was at his fluent best, speeding to a half-century with well-timed shots through and over fielders. He finished the game with a 13th four and a strike rate of 126. Robson finished the match with 204 runs and an indecent but tongue-in-cheek proposal from his skipper.
"Maybe he should take my spot," responded Rogers to a wry query about whether the pair should be opening up for Australia. His admiration for Robson knows no bounds, casting envious eyes at his partner's first innings hundred, describing it as "the kind of innings that you are desperate to play", before waxing lyrical about his maturity.
Even umpire Peter Willey, never one to throw around praise, with his hard nose and deathly stare, felt compelled to comment to Rogers that Robson had a great head on his shoulders. As for his talent, there is little doubt from anyone who has seen him play.
"He doesn't have any weaknesses, at all," praised Rogers. "I think the thing he does well is he plays all-round the wicket, you know?
"I'm particularly happy for Robbo. I think he' is showing everyone he's a class player. I'd be very disappointed if England didn't pick him. Robbo is ready."
Rogers was more reserved when discussing the form of Steven Finn, who finished with nine wickets in the match. He was a consistent threat throughout but was prone to a handful of spells that saw him lose a bit of focus and control. Rogers, impressively, was both empathetic and professional in his summation of his bowler.
"It's hard because I want to see Finny do well. But when you have such a period behind you when your confidence is shattered and you know you hit rock bottom almost, you need some time behind you with some consistent performances.
"If he went and played Test cricket right now he might easily do well. But, equally, if he bowled a bad spell the media and public will all put pressure on him and it may go the wrong way."
The sentiments were echoed by fellow bowler and good friend Tim Murtagh. Both he and Rogers have years on Finn and experiences of their own personal toils. Even in this very game Murtagh struggled in the first innings, before taking stock and coming back, with the aid of a quickened pitch, to take five wickets in the second to finish off Notts.
Like Rogers, Murtagh implored the need for time and "matches under his belt" in a bid to get Finn back to his best. More overs, less talk:
"It was an issue that perhaps people in the press and more people were commenting on him," said Murtagh. "People saying he was hitting the side net and had forgotten how to bowl almost was a bit of rubbish, really.
"As you've seen from the first couple of games, he's not far away from where he would like to be. There are obviously still improvements that he's always wanting to make. It may well be a long term process, and he is still only 25 with a lot of time ahead of him."
Chris Read was the prized wicket going into the day, after his counter-punching yielded a quick fire 43 at the end of day three. He could only add one more run to the cause, as a peach of a delivery from Tim Murtagh coaxed his bat outside off stump and caught his edge through to John Simpson.
Runs came, with Peter Siddle edging through a vacant third slip to take Notts to 202 (a lead of 89). But a brain fade from Wessels saw him try and pick up Murtagh over the short-side, away to the Grand Stand. Instead of finding the tracks at St John's Wood, the ball landed safely between the hands and chest of James Harris at mid on. Given how well Siddle had batted in the first innings, it was a particularly baffling bit of cricket.
Harris and Siddle were two of the three protagonists in the next dismissal, as the Middlesex seamer dolled up a brute of a rising delivery that the Australian could only fend through to Simpson. Murtagh needed no help for the next wicket - his fifth - when he produced a brilliant yorker to bowl a leaden-footed Andy Carter.
It was then down to Luke Fletcher, capable of some brutal strikes, to take on the scoring burden. He shepherded Harry Gurney well, but was unable to really unload effectively. When Steven Finn was brought into the attack, he threw the kitchen sink at his second delivery but could only impart height rather than distance on the ball, which eventually nestled, yet again, in the hands of Simpson.
Notts, of course, will be disappointed that they underperformed after a good win against Lancashire last week. Chris Read was unable to keep wicket after an injury to his shoulder picked up on day three stiffened overnight. He will have time to rest up as both Notts and Middlesex have a week off to before reconvening against Warwickshire and Yorkshire, respectively.
By that time, the new England coach will be announced and Mick Newell will be plotting a turnaround for either his club or country. It is unlikely that taking charge of a match within ear-shot of the ECB offices would have affected Newell or his players. Quite simply, they were unable to convert chances with bat and ball.