Compton, Finn show international class
Somerset 153 for 4 (Compton 58*, Hildreth 53) trail Middlesex 338 (Malan 134, Stirling 56, Overton 4-84) by 185 runs
A year ago, Nick Compton and Steven Finn would not have envisaged spending these four days at Uxbridge. They would have anticipated playing against India at Trent Bridge tomorrow.
Even with a schedule that may be the most absurd in cricketing history - five Tests in 42 days - it seems inconceivable that England will find use for either against India. Perhaps there is more depth in the English game than many realise.
Finn began Somerset's innings with a spell of snarling, aggressive fast bowling. His default length was short of good, but not unthinkingly so. So accurate was Finn that he made it difficult for the batsmen to refrain from playing.
Within four overs, Finn had two wickets, including Marcus Trescothick prodding at a sharp lifter. He also had Trescothick dropped in the slips. This was a fast bowler letting rip. It was also exactly why Finn elicited such enthusiasm among England followers.
After England had capitulated to Mitchell Johnson at Brisbane, Nick Compton tweeted a photo of his backward defensive. It might be a distinctly unglamorous shot, but it is a non-negotiable against Finn in this mood. And Compton played it copious times as he withstood Finn's opening burst.
"I had to strip things back a bit," Compton reflected. "Steven's a quality bowler and he's come back to form and was charging in there. It got my juices going. You don't often find that in first-class cricket when you have someone of his pace running in and getting it above your head. So that was exciting and it was nice to get into that battle."
That Compton certainly did: 86 balls into his innings and he was still short of 20. If it was not exhilarating, it was enthralling. And it was exactly what Somerset required after the debris of 28 for 3, still 310 runs behind.
Middlesex had good reason to feel stung. When Eoin Morgan's neck suffered an unwelcome encounter with a bee, Paul Stirling replaced him in the slips. On 16, Compton nicked a delivery from Neil Dexter to him: it seemed regulation enough, but was less so to an auxiliary slip fielder.
Compton soon unfurled a more expansive array of shots, including some pristine hooks. When he reached his half-century, he promptly drove Ravi Patel for a straight four down the ground, as if to affirm that he will return with the intention of adding plenty to his unbeaten 58 tomorrow.
Still, Compton's innings would have counted for far less had it not been for James Hildreth. While Compton left with impeccable judgment, Hildreth counter-attacked with grace and gusto, scoring 48 of the first 55 runs in their partnership, including 16 off 16 deliveries he faced from Finn. Some exquisite drives were a reminder that there exists few more aesthetically pleasing players on the county circuit. It was an innings that promised far more than being terminated at 53, clean bowled by Dexter.
When Middlesex reached 203 for 2 on Monday evening, their innings also promised far more than it delivered. But, after an erratic display on the first day, Craig Overton showed why he is held in such regard by Somerset. Though he is slightly slower, Overton extracted bounce to rival that of Finn: quite a feat for someone who regards himself as a batting allrounder.
The upshot was four wickets in the day and a reminder of the damage that well-directed short bowling can afflict on a batting tail. But it was a fuller delivery that got the crucial wicket of Stirling, as 319 for 6 - a position from which Middlesex could eye a first innings score to come close to the ground's average of 478 - rapidly became 338 all out.
Stirling has been regarded as a limited-overs specialist at Middlesex, despite the evidence of quality provided by two ODI centuries for Ireland against Pakistan. As he produced some attractive offside punches and late cuts, it was odd to reflect that this was only his fourth Championship game. But with three half-centuries in four innings this season, he has belatedly established his position in the side. It seems inconceivable that Stirling can remain at No. 7 in Middlesex's order for long.