Murtagh lifts Middlesex again
Middlesex 459 for 8 dec (Morgan 103, Malan 92, Rayner 77*) and 31 for 0 beat Lancashire 266 (Buttler 59, Smith 59, Dexter 6-63) and 223 (Prince 86, Buttler 50, Murtagh 6-60) by 10 wickets
English cricket would love to see Steven Finn bowling Middlesex to victory, but on the final day at Lord's it was Tim Murtagh who put in the defining performance to set up a 10-wicket victory, their third home win of the season to leave them third in the table.
At one stage before lunch, with Lancashire 45 for 5, it appeared Middlesex would be reflecting on a job well done sooner rather than later, but it was not until shortly before the final hour that they were able to wrap up a 10-wicket victory.
Ashwell Prince and Jos Buttler had given Lancashire hope of salvaging a draw, adding 117 for the fifth wicket to show that conditions were still perfectly good for batting, but Murtagh refused to yield during lengthy spells from the Nursery End in an exemplary display of swing and seam to finish with 6 for 60.
It led to glowing praise from his captain, Chris Rogers, who lauded him as one of the best bowlers he has led. "I thought that was outstanding in the second dig," Rogers said. "To get six, and when the game looked like it was drifting to get three in a spell that's outstanding. It showed why he is one of the best bowlers I've ever been lucky enough to captain.
"Just to be able to give him the ball and they tell you when they are done: it's exceptional to have and I'm very privileged to have him. We missed him when he went to play for Ireland last week which was disappointing but that's the way it goes."
Murtagh already had one wicket to his name overnight and resumed Middlesex's task of taking nine more when he removed nightwatchman Simon Kerrigan with a beauty early on. However, it was two wickets in the space of four balls moments before tea which revived the victory push when he had Buttler caught a first slip, three balls after he was dropped by John Simpson, and then found Tom Smith's outside edge, leaving Lancashire seven down at the interval.
Another frustrating stand began to form between Prince, who had been given a tough time by Finn in the afternoon but attacked the same bowler after tea when he dropped repeatedly short, and Glen Chapple which took Lancashire into the lead and ate up valuable time.
Again it was over to Murtagh, who was not rested before the second new ball, although his fifth wicket was given a considerable helping hand by Prince's horrid slash outside off which undid nearly four hours of concentration. When Chapple played across a full delivery from Toby Roland-Jones, Lancashire's chances of salvaging a draw had all but vanished and Murtagh's sixth wrapped up the innings leaving Middlesex 19 overs to complete the formalities.
Apart from a few dropped catches, Rogers could not pick holes in the performance. "This was almost a perfect game for us; win the toss, put them in and bowl them out then go a long way past them then bowl then out again - that's a perfect game," he said. "But we can get better, we dropped a few chances, and I do expect a lot of the guys.
His more immediate concern, however, was ensuring Middlesex improve their away record when they travel to Northamptonshire on Sunday, after twice being heavily beaten on the road, and also juggling the rapid change in formats which will now come with the start of the NatWest T20 Blast.
"It's a tough job and I don't know how it's going to work to be honest. There's a lot being asked of these guys and we'll need to be quite understanding of their loads."
Overall, it was a familiar tale for Lancashire. Their top-order batting is a serious threat to their chances of staying in Division One. Their average total at five wickets down this season has been 99 and while on some occasions, such as at Wantage Road, there were some mitigating circumstances, having the top order fail on a warm, sunny day at Lord's highlights the weakness.
They did have to contend with some fine bowling in the morning, and not just from Murtagh. Roland-Jones trapped Karl Brown for a duck and Finn earned an lbw against Paul Horton although the ball may have been sliding. There was no doubt about Luke Procter's wicket, brilliantly caught low down to his left by Simpson during one of Finn's more impressive spells of the match.
For Buttler it at least allowed him another backs-to-wall situation in which to show his ability to grind out an innings with his second half-century of the match, although if he walks in too many more times with his side in strife he may pine for the days of watching team-mates at Somerset pile on the runs.
When his footwork let him down, playing away from his body against Murtagh, only for his opposite number to palm away a regulation chance it just started to appear that he may help Lancashire escape, but Middlesex's perseverance held sway.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo