Dexter adds to Northants pain
Northamptonshire 283 and 88 for 4 trail Middlesex 543 for 7 dec (Dexter 163*, Rogers 106, Malan 92) by 172 runs
More gloom for Northamptonshire, whose best hope of avoiding a fourth defeat may be another incorrect weather forecast. Heavy showers, thunderstorms even, had been supposedly on the cards on day three but never came. The fourth day is expected to be dry.
The only semblance of thunder was the crash of the heavy bat wielded by Toby Roland-Jones, who is leaving a significant imprint on this match, one that has taken Middlesex to within six more wickets of a fourth win in six County Championship matches, which will take them back to the top of Division One.
The 26-year-old seamer followed his career-best 6 for 55 with the ball by blasting 60 with the bat, his highest score in first-class games, struck off a mere 30 balls and which doubled his career tally of sixes.
Neil Dexter, who has come through a wretched period in his life and career, also eclipsed his previous best, finishing not out on 163. He and Joe Denly had dominated the morning session, turning an overnight deficit of 21 runs into a lead of 99 by adding 120 runs before lunch without giving a chance. Dexter completed a 195-ball hundred with the last ball of the morning.
Denly fell to the second ball of the afternoon when he was caught at slip off Andrew Hall for 70, but it had been a marked improvement on what had gone before this season. His best score before this was eight.
Northamptonshire attempted to fight back. John Simpson was run out by a smart piece of work by Stephen Peters at midwicket and Maurice Chambers took a nonchalant one-handed catch at mid-off when Ollie Rayner drove James Middlebrook in the air.
But it was when Roland-Jones began to swing the bat that Northamptonshire began to suffer seriously. He despatched Middlebrook over the boundary rope off consecutive balls and treated Chambers and Hall with similar disdain as the pair added 94 in 47 balls for the seventh wicket.
The barrage ended with the Middlesex seamer holing out to long-on, prompting a declaration from skipper Chris Rogers with a lead of 260. Neil Dexter had batted for five-and-a-half hours, collecting 19 fours and three sixes of his own, passing his previous best of 146 against Kent at Uxbridge in 2009. It was no wonder he ended the day on the massage table.
Northamptonshire were left with 36 overs to survive simply to take the match into a fourth day and their cause did not begin well as Middlebrook was bowled first ball off an inside edge by Tim Murtagh.
Roland-Jones extended his influence on the match by taking his seventh and eighth wickets, moving one away from Stephen Peters that took the edge and then trapping David Sales in front, although it was an unlucky dismissal for the veteran batsman against a ball that scuttled through at ankle height.
Matt Spriegel and Rob Newton got their heads down for an hour and a half to ensure that a three-day defeat was avoided but Spriegel fell to the last ball of the day, bowled by Joe Denly, an inside edge that bounced off his boot to Ollie Rayner at first slip.
Dexter, discussing the match while prone on his front on the aforementioned massage table, put Middlesex's improvement over the last two games down to some harsh words delivered by Mark Ramprakash, their batting coach, during the dressing room inquest that followed their trouncing by Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
"We all know we are capable of scoring runs and we have played a bit more positively and with a bit more intent since then," Dexter said. "Hopefully that was a bit of a watershed."