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May 11, 2014
Lancashire 266 (Smith 59, Buttler 59, Dexter 6-63) v Middlesex
For a side that had gained just one batting point in their first four Championship matches, Lancashire's 266 having been put in under leaden skies at Lord's was a decent effort. A familiar plight appeared to be emerging when they were four down before lunch.
The revival was led by the pair of Jos Buttler and Tom Smith who were key to Lancashire's one win so far this season, against Northamptonshire, but the individual honours for the day when to Neil Dexter with a career-best 6 for 63.
Facing an attack of Tim Murtagh, Toby Roland-Jones and Steven Finn, it will annoy Lancashire that they lost so many to Dexter, whose one previous five-wicket haul came last season against Nottinghamshire.
However, he pitched the ball fuller and moved it more than his three frontline colleagues and it meant Middlesex had a four-man attack even though Ollie Rayner only had two overs before the second new ball. Dexter's role was given added importance as Finn struggled for consistency, not horrendously so but enough to remind everyone of his fragile state.
Middlesex did not always help themselves in the field. Four catches went down - two by Rayner at slip on a proper hands-in-pocket temperature day - although the damage could have been worse. Ashwell Prince was missed, low down at second slip on 1, but fell for 17 and Buttler was missed at midwicket five runs before he was dismissed when Eoin Morgan had done the tricky bit of getting underneath a leading edge only for the ball to spill out.
Buttler had also been given a reprieve on 13 when he drove loosely at Murtagh and Rayner spilled his second opportunity. That allowed him to help rebuild Lancashire's innings, firstly alongside the obdurate Luke Procter and then the more fluent Smith.
Matt Prior's achilles - now well and truly in the 'worrisome' bracket - continues to keep him on the sidelines and although Jonny Bairstow, the incumbent Test keeper, has regained the gloves for Yorkshire, Buttler has now twice made runs in challenging circumstances this season.
His keeping remains rough around the edges, as his drop against Scotland showed, but England are not about to go back to the notion of being a keeper first, batsman second. That is not to ignore the batting merits of James Foster and Chris Read, who are better batsmen now than when first selected, but their time has surely gone.
This was a restrained innings by Buttler standards - his fifty came from 85 balls with consecutive boundaries off Finn - but he rode his fortune, picking off some handsome drives until reaching out for a wide delivery from Dexter and picking out extra cover, where Chris Rogers improved the standard of catching.
Middlesex had made enough inroads before lunch to justify inserting, chipping out each of Lancashire's top order just as they had battled through the early challenge on a cloudy, chilly day.
Paul Horton, the stand-out player in a fragile top five, guided to second slip while trying to withdraw his bat; Luis Reece pressed forward and edged behind - 23 was his best Championship score of a lean season; Karl Brown, who had played compactly, dragged on to give Dexter his first and Prince was given lbw to one that straightened.
Procter's innings was painful to watch, but he at least stayed with Buttler while 55 runs were added in 20 overs either side of lunch which allowed the ball to soften further. A drive without footwork let him down, this time Rayner held on a second slip. Smith was far more assured at the crease as his season tally before this match of 237 suggested he would be.
This innings made him Lancashire's leading run-scorer of the season - competition for that title, it must be said, has not been overly stiff - and the ease with which he played suggested he is a bit low at No. 7 in a struggling line-up. He has previously opened in four-day cricket and a couple of the on-drives he played were of a quality that would not be out of place back in the top five. Who is that other Lancashire allrounder making the news?
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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