Compton stars as Middlesex stay cagey
Somerset 264 for 9 dec (Compton 94, Hildreth 53) and 203 for 4 (Compton 83*, Hildreth 60) drew with Middlesex 338 (Malan 124, Gubbins 56, Stirling 56, Overton 4-84) and 315 for 5 dec (Gubbins 95, Morgan 62, Stirling 60)
When Nick Compton was dropped by England, it was suggested that his batting was too slow and stodgy. He didn't have enough shots and, with Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott also in England's top three, the side would get stuck.
It always seemed a slightly peculiar logic. And slow batting was hardly England's problem during the Ashes series in Australia.
In the first innings Compton scored 94 off 278 balls. Laborious, perhaps, but without those runs - or if he had been taken by Paul Stirling at second slip on 16, when Eoin Morgan was off having been stung be a bee - Somerset may well have lost this game.
If Compton felt the need to show Angus Fraser, Middlesex's director of cricket and the watching England selector, that he could play more expansively, he took the opportunity the last day at Uxbridge presented. He pulled particularly pleasingly, displaying a relish for the short ball that those in England's Test side have sometimes lacked.
"He's at his best when he's facing the likes of Steven Finn on these type of pitches when there's a bit more bounce and a bit more pace," Marcus Trescothick purred.
For Chris Rogers, the upshot of Compton's defiance was to reflect once again on his declaration. He set Somerset 390 in 72 overs, which sounded on the cautious side, though he had a rapid outfield to consider as well as the memory of Nottinghamshire's heist of 385 last month.
"Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Maybe we could have pulled out a bit earlier but we had a hard loss a few weeks ago and that's in the back of our minds. I think if we were to lose this game we'd probably fall off that chasing group so it was probably important that we didn't lose."
Both sides retain title pretensions. Somerset are in third, and have both their games against Northamptonshire to play, while Middlesex go to Scarborough next week to play Yorkshire. "I think they'll be a bit wary of us and hopefully we can pull off an amazing win and then we'll be right up there," Rogers said.
The spectre of a drab final day, for all the fine cricket in the match, also prompted discussion over the lack of disintegration in the pitch. "I was hoping for a bit more up and down on day four but it didn't really do that. It was essential you used the new ball but after that it became a bit lifeless," Rogers said.
"With the sun out the wickets here become a bit dead and then it is hard to bowl teams out, particularly as they don't seem to be breaking up that much. I'm sure groundsmen are trying their best. They probably just need a bit of rain!"
If the crowd felt underwhelmed at the spectre of early handshakes, at least they had a morning of pyrotechnics to enjoy. Paul Stirling, promoted to number five, bristled with stocky intent. He followed an uppercut off Lewis Gregory for six with a bludgeoned straight drive and reached 50 in only 37 balls.
It was his fourth in five Championship innings in 2014, seemingly rendering his years marooned in the 2nd X1 all the more curious. But not to Rogers.
"He was still developing his own game and he'd be the first to say he had no form with the red ball but he's come round and he's doing very well," Rogers said. "It's great to say we should have picked him early in hindsight but that's a rubbish call. I'm just really happy he's doing well."
Rogers' new opening partner is also in fine form. Nick Gubbins reached 95, including lofting George Dockrell for six over midwicket, but was run-out after a mix-up with Stirling. Still, on the evidence of his composure and mature shot selection, Gubbins' maiden first-class century will not be long in coming.
Somerset's prospects of threatening their target always depended inordinately upon Trescothick, especially with Craig Kieswetter missing this game because of a family funeral.
He flickered briefly, swatting a few trademark late cuts, but when Eoin Morgan smartly took him at second slip a meandering draw seemed inevitable. With a lively spell that accounted for Chris Jones and Alviro Petersen, Toby Roland-Jones briefly offered the prospect of Rogers being vindicated.
But James Hildreth made a second silky half-century of the game, adding 93 with Compton. As he accelerated, unfurling a reverse-sweep, Somerset may have entertained fanciful notions of a run chase. He was caught at long on to end those. No matter: Compton remained unperturbed.