Middlesex risk nothing against bottom club
Middlesex 488 for 9 dec (Malan 154*, Rogers 86, Spriegel 3-26) and 199 for 5 dec (Morgan 81*) drew with Northamptonshire 384 (Crook 131, Hall 75, Kettleborough 73) and 82-3
As Shane Warne and Brian Lara locked horns, in the softest manner imaginable, netting against each other on the Nursery Ground, there was a possibility that onlookers would be lured away, into the ground proper. A potentially exciting climax was in store, surely a much worthier way to pass the time than a knockabout between legends.
Sadly, they were probably better off watching the odd flash of diminished genius, as this encounter between Middlesex and Northamptonshire dulled into submission.
Much of the unofficial chat around the day was that Middlesex would be looking for a lead of 300 and declaring after lunch. That came to pass, thanks largely to Eoin Morgan who, after a period of calm, brought out all his class and party tricks for 81.
The equation was 304 in 56 overs. Northants were tempted to go for it - after all, what did they have to lose? But the wickets of Steven Peters and James Kettleborough, in the space of four overs deflated them. In the end, they settled for a draw - their second of the season. Peters was "happy enough".
"We've been on a pretty dreadful losing streak," he said. "We had to stop the rot at some point and we've done that during this game.
"We've just played better cricket, here, apart from the first morning where we didn't bowl so well. Things like avoiding the follow-on were crucial; we could have found ourselves under-pressure again if we hadn't done that."
Should Middlesex have offered a bigger carrot? Peters expressed surprise at the delay in Middlesex's declaration. "Twenty or thirty runs less, with 10 overs more to bowl at us," was his suggestion, especially given how the season has panned out for his side,
At the half way stage of the season, Northants have just 42 points, without a single win. They were also a functioning batsman light after Rob Keogh dislocated and broke the same finger in his left hand.
The finger itself may need to have a wire put through it to ensure it realigns and heals correctly. Had Northants' pursuit of the follow-on target hit a snag, he was ready to don an extensive arm guard and a reinforced glove and tough it out. Were things to go awry for the visitors on the final afternoon, he would have done the same.
But Peters also conceded the state of the pitch - a featherbed, with little to nothing for the spinners, despite it being the fourth day - along with the short boundary, meant that 270-odd in 70 overs would have been a risk.
Middlesex skipper Chris Rogers confirmed that recent experiences of last innings chases had Middlesex thinking twice. A couple of weeks ago at Trent Bridge his side were on the receiving end of an assault from Alex Hales and then Rikki Wessels, as Nottinghamshire chased 385 in 74.5 overs. "Once bitten, twice shy, I think," he said at the close.
He stopped short of airing his frustrations about a track that provided the left arm spin of Ravi Patel with little encouragement. He did however bemoan the loss of impetus in key periods, most of which were within Middlesex's control. One that was not, a period of 16 overs at the end of day two which was washed out, with Northants three down, no doubt helped the visitors. But it was the loss of power on day three with the ball that he felt hurt Middlesex's chances of victory the most.
"That really hurt us. At one stage I think we were certain to enforce the follow on. But Crooky played the innings of his life and all credit to him. We had an off-session. I don't think we've bowled or fielded particularly well in this game."
"It's hard to criticise the bowlers because we've come across some pretty flat wickets. They've probably underperformed to their standards and they know that, but hopefully we can improve against Somerset."
Warwickshire's victory over Nottinghamshire today means Middlesex are by no means out of the title race. However, the frustration of points dropped against a side that most teams in Division 1 have beaten, has Rogers frustrated and looking over his shoulder.
"Everyone seems to be beating everyone at the moment so a few good results at the end of the season then you never know what might happen. In saying that, not beating Northants has cost us - these games are as crucial as beating the teams at the top of the ladder."