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Jon Culley at Wantage Road
May 19, 2014
Middlesex 262 for 3 (Rogers 106, Malan 92) trail Northamptonshire 283 (Peters 67, Roland-Jones 6-55) by 21 runs
There were signs in the last hour or so that Middlesex's decision to pick two spinners might have been a wise one as scoring began to become more difficult on a slow pitch that is now very dry after two days of sunshine. There is work to be done yet after the foundations laid by Chris Rogers and Dawid Malan but provided they do not collapse in a heap against the second new ball, available but not yet taken, Middlesex will hope from three wickets down to build a lead big enough to put Northamptonshire under pressure.
Rogers, who made his second century of the summer and his 12th for Middlesex, joined a series of former players who have so far added an extra layer of difficulty to Northamptonshire's attempts to adapt to life in Division One. In their defeat to Yorkshire at Headingley it was the eight wickets taken in the match by Jack Brooks that did for them; at Trent Bridge the game changer was Riki Wessels, hammering 158 off 152 balls to transform the picture on the final day, setting up an unlikely Nottinghamshire win.
Now Rogers made them suffer. The Australia batsman is as much an adopted Englishman, it might be argued, as his opening partner, Sam Robson. Half his 68 first-class centuries have been scored on English soil, 33 of them in county cricket, five in his two years at Wantage Road.
This was one of his more fortunate, though, certainly in the opinion of the home side, led by the impassioned pleas of the fast bowler, Maurice Chambers, who was convinced Rogers was out leg-before to the first delivery of the innings, which was thudding into his pads before he had time to move meaningfully forward. Umpire Martin Bodenham was not convinced.
"He batted well in his second knock," the Northamptonshire chief executive, David Smith, joked later, having watched the video evidence several times. 'Not out in the book' might have been Rogers's response. In fact, quizzed about it later, he was honest enough to admit that had Bodenham's finger been raised he would not have had any quarrel.
But if that was a matter for conjecture, the dropped catch that let Rogers off the hook on 17 was another moment of disappointment for Northamptonshire, of which there have been too many so far. Rogers pushed at a ball from Ian Butler this time and it flew off the edge to the right of first slip David Sales, who got a hand to the ball but could not hold on.
Having already seen off Robson, caught at third slip playing an uncharacteristically loose shot for 6, they could have had Middlesex 38 for 2 with both prolific openers out of their hair. But, as they have discovered too often for comfort so far, mistakes of that nature can be unforgiving.
Robson missed a trick, given that James Whitaker, the national selector, was on the ground on Test selection duty. Rogers though, rarely fluent but letting few chances pass him by, took his cue, going on to make 106 before he aimed a tired-looking swing at Matt Spriegel's offspin and lost his middle stump.
He and Malan added 88 for the second wicket, taking Middlesex to within 58 of overtaking Northamptonshire's 283 all out, in which Toby Roland-Jones finished with a career-best 6 for 55. But Malan, seeking his first Championship century since August 2012, missed his chance for the second week in a row, having been out for the same score, 92, against Lancashire at Lord's last week. This time he clipped a ball from Andrew Hall straight to midwicket.
The Middlesex scoring rate began to drag a little thereafter, with the odd ball turning enough to worry Neil Dexter and Joe Denly, and they still have 21 runs to make for parity. The next session could be the key one. Thunderstorms are forecast, too, which may play a part.
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