Middlesex v Nottinhamshire, Lord's, 4th day April 16, 2014

Robson closes in on England debut

Vithushan Ehantharajah at Lord's

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.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on April 17, 2014, 21:14 GMT

    @TimMann I think that Joe Root is still the real deal, but he needs to play at #6, where he was initially to be successful. When Alistair Cook retires he will be ready to move up to open; right now, he is not.

  • Tim on April 17, 2014, 16:26 GMT

    While I don't doubt that Robson is the real thing, I should remind everyone that Joe Root was making just these sorts of big innings before his call up. A year of so on and no one thinks he's up to it. So let's wait and see and not expect too much.

  • Mark on April 17, 2014, 15:55 GMT

    Yesterday the Middlesex commentator was almost begging England not to pick Finn and I have heard Jordan being compared very favourably to Jimmy Anderson. I think that Finn's confidence would be undermined by rising him too soon: a bad spell and we'll be back to square one. It's interesting though that we are back to Steve Finn 2010: fast, nasty, taking wickets, but expensive - the reason why he was dropped for Tim Bresnan originally.

    Like @landl47, I can see us going with a part-time spinner rather than Ollie Rayner or James Tredwell (the TMS team suggested this during the winter). Assuming that Joe Root is fit and scoring runs, that may well suggest going for Scott Borthwick or Moeen Ali - the former turns the ball the other way, which is useful. Both need to get some big runs to justify being picked mainly as a batsman and neither has done that... yet.

    Anyway, 6 more rounds of Championship to go before the Tests. No need to panic, yet.

  • Paulo on April 17, 2014, 14:21 GMT

    While the battle for test places is looking good and has lots of time, what about the ODIs? With no 50 cup matches till late July, how on earth will the team be picked for that?

  • Dummy4 on April 17, 2014, 13:04 GMT

    Robson is nailed on, fitness permitting, I would say.

    Based solely on the initial action and gut feel, I wonder if we might see something like Cook, Robson, Bell, Root, Moeen, Stokes, Prior, Borthwick, Broad, Jimmy, Jordan/Finn line up this summer.

  • John on April 17, 2014, 12:17 GMT

    Robson looks ready. I'd still like to see him a bit more consistent, but he's getting there and his advantage is that when he gets in he scores big hundreds.

    Finn needs more time. He's obviously starting to find form (15 wickets in 3 innings is impressive) but he's giving away too many runs at the moment. He needs to improve his control; when he does, he's going to be a test player again. At the moment, Jordan, used in short spells to bowl really fast, may be the strike bowler England needs.

    England's real dilemma is spin. If Monty plays, England can only afford 3 seamers since none of Broad, Anderson, Jordan or Bresnan is a #7 test batsmen. Stokes as 3rd seamer? Hmmm- maybe. However, Moeen, Rashid and Borthwick aren't test class spinners, though they are all useful batsmen. Maybe Moeen, as the best batsmen and most economical bowler of the three, has the edge. Don't forget Root, too; he'd made some changes to his bowling action and before he was injured in the WI was bowling well.

  • Paulo on April 17, 2014, 11:42 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer keeping is a bit of a worry. Bairstow's England record is awful in all formats batting, and as a keeper he always drops the ball. And he is injured. Prior is also injured.Davies (my choice) has scored 1 50. Buttler isn't playing (or ready imo) and Foakes doesn't keep for Essex. Keeping is a worry.

    Also no mention of Vince?

    Agree with your evaluation of Borthwick.

    Also on another thread you mentioned that not many teams have a quality spinner. Agree with that. Look at South Africa. Perhaps Swann has made us greedy.

  • Mark on April 17, 2014, 8:05 GMT

    Right now, the batting looks in good shape. Ian Bell, Alistair Cook, Sam Robson, Matt Prior, Jonny Bairstow (although against the students), Gary Ballance, Michael Carberry and Adil Rashid (one of England's forgotten men, who may yet enter he reckoning) all have centuries. Robson, Bell and Cook all went well past 150. We have not yet seen Root, Broad, Bresnan or Stokes play.

    For Morgan, Trott, Moeen Ali or Compton to enter the reckoning they need headline-making centuries too.

    Bowling is more of an issue. Steve Finn (twice), Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Meaker all have 5-fors. Jordan has impressed. Finn looks close to his best and is the leading wicket-taker in the country, but his confidence must be too fragile to risk.

    Of the spinners, Scott Borthwick has been the most successful (8 wickets at 34.4 and a strike rate of 53). He bowls some dross, but takes wickets. Ollie Rayner only played to strengthen the batting - he's had little chance to make a case as has any of the really.

  • Paulo on April 17, 2014, 7:31 GMT

    Morgan looks likely for a middle order place. With KP and possibly Prior out, and given the England management love Morgan, I reckon he'll be at 5. Another middle order option is a seam-bowling allrounder, but with Woakes having a poor start to the seasonot and Stokes injured this may be unlikely.

    Non of the front line spinners are doing themselves any favours. Perhaps the best option is a spin bowling batting allrounder and 4 seamers. However with test matches being later this year and the new drainage system drying out pitches, a front line spinner may be necessary. Or am I just greedy after Swann? Moeen isn't doing great though. Borthwick is a risk but is a wicket taker and scored 1000 runs last year.

  • Paulo on April 17, 2014, 6:30 GMT

    Robson appears to be winning the battle for the top order place. Cook was always going to play. Compton failed on a pitch where 400 played 500, and batted too slowly like he did for England. Carberry may have scored a hundred, but with Robson's Lions runs, the fact that Australia have changed rules to allow him to play in Australia in attempt to try and win him back, and his good county start puts him ahead of Carberry, who has always looked uncomfortable when playing for England. I had previously stated that I thought it was a battle between Robson and Trott, with the victorious batting in their preferred position and Root taking the remaining.

    Middle order batsmen looks a good battle. Bell a certainty. Taylor and Ballance have the career stats and last season, but have 1 50 and 1 failure so far, and Ballance struggled in Australia. England could go with a spin bowling middle order player. Ali, Borthwick (who bowled with control) or possibly Rashid.

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