Middlesex v Somerset, Uxbridge, 1st day July 7, 2014

Malan profits from Somerset slips

Tim Wigmore at Uxbridge

Middlesex 211 for 4 (Malan 90*) v Somerset

No county in recent years has been more haunted by missed opportunities than Somerset. So four missed chances on the opening day at Uxbridge will imbue the side with regret.

Some optimistic Somerset supporters were overheard plotting a trip to Headingley in the final round, in anticipation of a Championship shoot-out. That is a scenario few would have envisaged after Somerset's bleak 2013. But, after leading the table halfway through the season, their Championship challenge has since faltered with a first defeat at Trent Bridge and the failure to finish Lancashire off at Taunton. This game thus assumed a critical air.

While Somerset bowled admirably once again, the satisfaction would have been tempered by the feeling that they had failed to twist the knife into a Middlesex side that seemed vulnerable. Four victories in their first six Championship games has been followed by only 34 points in their last four.

The strength of Middlesex's batting has rested on Sam Robson and Chris Rogers, a combination who have ensured copious "R and R" for their teammates. In the circumstances, with Robson absent on England duty and Rogers dismissed early by the sprightly Lewis Gregory, Middlesex may have felt in need of generosity from the opposition. And they certainly received it: Nick Gubbins, impressing again in lieu of Robson, was shelled by Trescothick in the slips off Peter Trego; and Trego then missed a sharp return chance off Dawid Malan.

But it was Eoin Morgan to whom Somerset were most obliging. He was spilled by Alviro Petersen off Alfonso Thomas in the slips when he had yet to score, and then by stand-in wicket keeper Alex Barrow on 8 after a sharp lifter from Craig Overton. Batsmen of Morgan's repute are meant to be unforgiving after such lapses. Instead Morgan flicked Trego tamely to extra cover, prompting celebrations oozing relief.

Trego's repute is for his spectacular array of tattoos, and brash hitting in keeping with the image. By comparison his bowling is remarkably undemonstrative - seaming the ball at speeds less than many cars on the motorway that borders Uxbridge cricket ground. Not that it is any less effective for that as he showed in a probing spell after showers had permeated the pitch with more moisture. He followed Morgan's scalp with Neil Dexter lbw: Middlesex may have been relieved when further showers terminated the day for good.

Still, perhaps those feelings weren't shared by Malan. While Gubbins and Morgan made only 25 runs from their total of three extra lives, Malan has so far added 35 to his let-off on 55.

It means that he will begin tomorrow unbeaten on 90. The ten runs he needs to reach three figures have often seemed a burden for Malan. He was twice dismissed in the 90s this season before ending his wait for a Championship ton - stretching back to August 2012 - with 154 not out against Northants last week. "I definitely had the nervous nineties," Malan admitted after the innings. "It really didn't feel like I was going to get out of them to be honest."

Here Malan provided reaffirmation of his striking talent, mixing languid extra cover drives - one off George Dockrell had the festivalgoers purring - with rasping cuts.

Should he reach his century, Somerset will have further cause to rue their catching prolificacy. Yet it did not detract from a fine bowling effort. Four right-arm pace bowlers may hint at a lack of variety, but it is not something that bothers Director of Cricket David Nosworthy. "They might all be right-arm over the wicket, but I think their skills are very different", he said. "Craig Overton gets a lot of extra bounce, Alfonso Thomas has the skill of swinging it both ways, Peter Trego just nibbles away in different areas and Lewis Gregory has the ability to bowl a really quick bouncer and swings it away. So there is a lot of difference within the make-up."

He is borne out by the statistics: all five of Somerset's bowlers in this game, including George Dockrell, average 28 or under this season. They would be entitled to ask how much better those averages would be with trustier friends in the outfield.