Rogers mulls declaration for title prospects
Middlesex 338 and 169 for 2 (Gubbins 67*) lead Somerset 264 for 9 dec (Compton 94, Hildreth 53) by 243 runs
Last week, Chris Rogers rejected the chance to tempt Northamptonshire with a target on the final day: he was "Once bitten, twice shy," after Nottinghamshire had chased down a target of 385 a few weeks earlier. Whether he is in more enterprising mood on day four will go a long way towards determining Middlesex's prospects of winning the title.
There is much to entice Rogers. Yorkshire look like they are closing in on another victory - and making good on Dickie Bird's determination that his year as President includes the Championship. This Uxbridge wicket is not breaking up, but it is providing a more even contest between bat and ball than many wickets this season. And in Marcus Trescothick, Rogers has an opposing captain keen to push for the victory that would boost Somerset's own prospects: declaring 74 runs behind was what they call funky captaincy. It received immediate reward, too, with a loose shot from Rogers off an immaculate away-swinger from Alfonso Thomas.
Given that Middlesex have often been accused of over-reliance on Rogers, Somerset would have spied an opportunity. But Nick Gubbins and Dawid Malan have twice produced century partnerships in response to Rogers' early dismissal in this game. A pair of left-handers particularly strong square of the wicket, they were perhaps most easily distinguishable by their choice of attire. Gubbins eschewed a jumper in the manner of an Englishman savouring the sun; befitting a man schooled in South Africa, Malan seemed not to regard a jumper as optional.
Since Sam Robson was whisked away by England, Gubbins has made a serene start to his Championship career. He has hit three half-centuries and tomorrow offers the prospect of converting his 67, already his top score, into a century. He has the appearance of an accumulator rather than dominator; the comparisons with fellow Radley College alumnus Andrew Strauss may become well worn, even if the resemblance is not striking.
But Gubbins also possesses a brilliant pull: in both innings he has whipped balls into the car park with timing worthy of Eoin Morgan. Morgan himself showed glimpses off his best form, lofting compatriot George Dockrell over long off and then piercing the offside with a pair of cuts.
More initiative will be needed tomorrow to pressure Somerset: so far the third-wicket pair have added 61 at 2.73 an over. "The new ball does a bit but when it softens up it's hard to score but also to get people out," was Gubbins' assessment. "The main thing is we're in a position to reassess now."
The fear is the 40 overs lost in the match may prevent a pulsating finish, though Middlesex may entertain the notion of setting Somerset 350 in 75 overs. Still, it is not a conversation that Middlesex would have anticipated as Alex Barrow and Nick Compton extended their fifth-wicket partnership to 84. Both looked assured at either end, but rather less assured between them.
After hints of trouble, the dreaded run-out occurred. Attempting a two off Steven Finn, Barrow ran two and a half while Compton remained safely stationed after running one. It looked like Barrow would be reprieved by an inaccurate throw from square leg, but Nick Gubbins in the covers reacted smartly and Finn finished the job.
From 185 for 4 and realistic aspirations of gaining a first innings lead, Somerset swiftly collapsed. Neil Dexter ended Peter Trego's merry 24, and then Toby Roland-Jones located zip and reverse swing with the old ball to account for Craig Overton, before promptly adding Lewis Gregory, caught at cover, with the new ball.
All the while Nick Compton remained resilient and unmoved, doing what Nick Compton does. He found a like-minded ally in Thomas and the upshot was they added 31 in 107 austere deliveries. It didn't seem like declaration batting but then, incongruously, Compton hit a delivery in the air. He was caught at square leg off Steven Finn - a fitting demise considering the quality of their duel on the second day. After 278 balls of skilled resistance, Compton's slow trudge off spoke of a man who felt he had earned a century. No Middlesex bowler would have disagreed.