Hales falls short but makes point
Nottinghamshire 258 for 4 (Hales 96, Patel 75*) trail Middlesex 505 (Morgan 191) by 247 runs
How absurd it is that when a batsman is out within touching distance of a statistical milestone it is somehow failure that is emphasised. Eoin Morgan was dismissed for 191, failing to score his first double hundred in Championship cricket. Then Alex Hales fell for 96, failing to complete his second hundred of the season. Each was furious, for different reasons. Logically, though, they ought to have been chuffed.
Morgan, without whose efforts, to supplement those of Chris Rogers, Middlesex would have been nowhere near 500, went to pull a ball from Luke Fletcher and misread it just enough to glove it, giving Chris Read an easy catch behind the stumps. He had hit 29 fours and two sixes, batting for more than six hours and deserved the cherry on the cake, without doubt, in spite of being dropped on 20. Even without the pay-off line, though, it had been a wonderful innings, advancing his cause as a batsman of substance, of Test match quality.
Hales was cross, too, seemingly not so much because he had been culpable in his own demise as out of disappointment with a decision that, in his eyes at least, seemed to favour the bowler. He had hit 16 fours and a six, faced only 110 balls; one firm drive or nicely timed cut away from another step on the road towards his goal, to re-establish himself as a first-choice at the top of the Nottinghamshire batting order, a status he had lost after a wretchedly poor 2013.
As with Morgan, all that was lacking from his statement of intent was a flourishing signature; he had taken his chances and made more good decisions than bad, which in his case is a prime objective.
He dominated his exchanges with Steven Finn, which says something too, perhaps, about where the England bowler sits in his redemption quest. Finn, told for the moment to forget about international cricket and settle into the rhythm of the county game, has taken 31 Championship wickets, which would suggest he is doing quite a lot right. Yet he offered plenty of chances to score on this occasion and Hales took advantage, hitting 30 from the 23 balls Finn bowled at him, including one run of four boundaries in five deliveries.
"I do feel I have something to prove," Hales said afterwards. "I learned my trade at the top of the order and whether that is my future is a good question but that is the only spot available at the moment and I'd like to show that I can nail it.
"I've worked on playing a lot straighter, and playing the ball a bit later, and on my footwork too, because being a tall guy I can get a bit a slack in that regard. I feel my game is coming along nicely at the moment."
Finn bowled a few decent balls, too, it should be said. Michael Lumb had one, taking out his middle stump when his first half-century of a lean season so far appeared there for the taking. Finn pushed that one through with pace, breaking a partnership of 102 with Hales after Phil Jaques had fallen early.
James Taylor missed an opportunity to prosper, bowled off stump by Neil Dexter, whose medium pace has been well rewarded before at Trent Bridge, but Samit Patel and Riki Wessels added 106 in 31.3 overs before bad light ended play, taking advantage of Middlesex's desire to advance the game by deploying their slow bowlers under brightly gleaming floodlights, using Joe Denly's leggies and Paul Stirling's offbreaks as well as Dexter and Ravi Patel.
Patel is 75 not out but, one feels, will need to add substantially to that to keep Nottinghamshire in the game.
Nottinghamshire improved their performance in the field, holding catches where they had spilled them on Saturday, although there was no repairing the damage. Fletcher and Peter Siddle finished with three wickets each but only Harry Gurney achieved the control needed on an unforgiving surface.