Northamptonshire v Middlesex, Northampton, 4th day May 21, 2014

Roland-Jones' 12 sends Middlesex top

Jon Culley at Northampton

Middlesex 543 for 7 dec. (Dexter 163*, Rogers 106) beat Northamptonshire 283 (Peters 67, Roland-Jones 6-55) and 176 (Roland-Jones 6-50) by an innings and 84 runs

Middlesex are playing down the likelihood that they will be able to sustain a title challenge over a full season but for the moment they are in front, with a lead of 19 points over Yorkshire, having won four matches out of six. All the other Division One teams have played a match fewer but it is a decent advantage.

What's more they have won away from Lord's for the first time, which may be significant, and without Steven Finn, whose 29 wickets have been a large part of their early season success. Here they were driven to a thumping victory by the outstanding performance of his career from Toby Roland-Jones, a seam bowler who could not get in the side when the fixture programme began last month.

Thanks largely to his six wickets, Northamptonshire succumbed by 2.30pm, having been four down overnight. There was a show of resistance from Ben Duckett, the 19-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman (although not Northants' regular keeper), who made a career-best 56, in conjunction with Ian Butler, the New Zealand allrounder, who preserved his wicket for almost two hours, facing 119 balls for his 14 runs - a commendable effort from a player whose more customary approach would have taken him to a century in that sort of time. But once they were parted the end came swiftly.

Without much at all in the way of warning, Roland-Jones took a career-best 6 for 55 in Northamptonshire's first innings and bettered it again with 6 for 50 in their second. His match figures of 12 for 105 are new territory for him as well. And there was that 60 off 30 balls with the bat, another career-best. For him it was quite an occasion.

Chris Rogers, the Middlesex captain, sung his praises, but as ever in the context of an honest appraisal. "We know what Toby is capable of," he said. "He's probably gone missing a bit for a little while and he will admit that. But when he is at his best he is an exceptional bowler and this was as well as I have seen him bowl since a couple of years ago at Worcester, when he took ten wickets in the game and was outstanding.

"He is still in the developmental stage and still has ups and downs but if he can put in performances like that, who knows?

"It is all about rhythm for bowlers. He was getting it in the right place and looked like taking a wicket every ball and not many bowlers can say they could do that on a wicket like the one we have had here.

"On day one when it was really flat he took responsibility and between him and Ravi Patel they made it happen. We did not have Finny to bowl this game but it was a great performance from that attack. To take 20 wickets on that surface was not easy."

Rogers was frank enough, too, to ask the questions that others might about Middlesex's claim to be title contenders.

"It is hard to tell where we stand, really," he said. "We are going to come up against teams stronger on paper than Northants and we have not played great cricket consistently. Tests will be coming thick and fast - we have Sussex in the next game and they have turned us over already this season. We will have a bit more of an idea after that one."

From their overnight 88 for 4, Northamptonshire lost three more wickets in the first half-hour. Tim Murtagh took a wicket with his first ball when he came on for Joe Denly at the Lynn Wilson Centre end, dismissing Rob Newton caught behind, then Roland-Jones increased his tally to 10 in the match when Andrew Hall drove loosely and edged to the wicketkeeper and David Murphy lost his off stump to one that may have nipped back a touch.

Middlesex broke the Duckett-Butler alliance when the latter edged a good delivery from Roland-Jones to John Simpson behind the wicket, ending a stand of 62 that spanned 38 overs. Butler, who took 112 balls to get into double figures, contributed 14.

Nine balls later, Duckett gave Roland-Jones his 12th wicket in the match when he was out hooking for the second time, after which Azharullah was run out by Dawid Malan's throw from fine leg.

It completed a fourth defeat in five for Northamptonshire, three of them by an innings. At least they began the defence of their Twenty20 crown with a win over a strong Yorkshire side. They need to breed some confidence in the short form and transfer it to their four-day game; but it needs to happen quite soon.