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Jon Culley at Wantage Road
May 18, 2014
Northamptonshire 251 for 8 (Peters 67, Roland-Jones 5-49) v Middlesex
A flat wicket and a beautifully sunny day appeared to offer Northamptonshire an ideal opportunity to make some amends for their rocky start to the season, especially against a Middlesex side beaten heavily in both their matches away from Lord's so far, who played not one but two T20 matches on Saturday after, and who decided Steven Finn, their leading wicket-taker, required a rest.
Finn is the leading wicket-taker in the country, with 29 wickets in five matches, but has undertaken a heavy workload, in the nets as well as in competition. He has bowled 172 overs in the Championship but has spent many hours too in the nets following his problems in Australia, where technical problems and the effect these had on his confidence led to his being sent home early. Although he has taken his wickets at a respectable 20.72 there are no plans to hurry him back to international cricket.
Yet even in Finn's absence, Northamptonshire struggled and it was just as well that Ian Butler, the New Zealander signed to bolster their bowling, knows which way up to hold the bat. Butler and Andrew Hall put on 42 for the eighth wicket to at least squeeze out a second batting point.
The recognised batsmen had succumbed to the bad habits that have dogged them so far on their return to Division One. One careless and premature dismissal after another at Trent Bridge last week prompted some harsh words from coach David Ripley but they seemingly fell on deaf ears.
Middlesex coach says Finn is 'coming good'
The biggest disappointment, perversely, was the only batsman to make a half-century. Stephen Peters, who clearly saw an opportunity when he won the toss, was playing soundly, constructing a measured 100-ball half century and beginning to increase the tempo when temptation, you might say, got the better of good sense.
In Championship cricket, when there is no pressure to chase, a couple of fours in an over is a quite reasonable ration and Peters, facing Toby Roland-Jones, had those in the bag when he stroked one through extra cover and another to the left of mid-off, from consecutive balls.
When Roland-Jones dropped the next one in short, though, Peters simply could not resist and the purity of the off-side shots was not replicated, sadly. The pull shot had power but looped off the top edge and Ravi Patel, positioned on the square-leg boundary, was there to take the catch. Three half-centuries for Peters so far this season; but none converted and this one, certainly, was an opportunity missed.
David Sales was wasteful, too, playing positively for his 43 but failing to turn it into something more substantial, caught at extra cover by Chris Rogers. It was a decent catch, diving to his right, but it was a loose, uppish drive by Sales off Tim Murtagh that made it possible. Matthew Spriegel and Ben Duckett were the architects of their own downfall too, although at 19 the latter could be excused for falling into a trap when Roland-Jones tempted him into the hook.
This was not a day for the Middlesex pace bowlers, who tend to thrive when the ball is swinging or seaming about. Murtagh, who took 6 for 60 at Lord's last week, found this pitch much less rewarding but perseverance paid for Roland-Jones, who finished the day with a season's best 5 for 49, an effort more meritworthy still given that he played in both of Middlesex's two T20 matches on Saturday.
He had bowled James Middlebrook with a ball that clipped the top of off stump, found the edge of Rob Newton's bat with probably the best ball of the day and claimed his five when Hall was leg before, breaking the eighth wicket partnership after it had added 42.
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