Middlesex v Warwickshire, Lord's, 3rd day September 2, 2014

Robson fails on Middlesex return

David Lloyd at Lord's

Middlesex 310 for 6 (Rogers 85, Dexter 70) trail Warwickshire 362 for 8 dec. by 52 runs

There is time enough to discuss Sam Robson's future as a Test batsman with England not playing red ball cricket again until the spring. But for an increasingly nervous-looking Middlesex, the moment for some serious action arrived today - and they found a slightly unlikely yet perfect man for the job in Neil Dexter.

Robson did nothing to silence the debate about his technique by being bowled off stump, playing no shot against Oliver Hannon-Dalby after making only a dozen. And when Nick Gubbins and Dawid Malan fell for similarly low scores, those Middlesex supporters fearing relegation for a team that topped the table in mid-season were sitting anything but comfortable in the September sunshine.

There was the reassuring sight of Chris Rogers to ease concern a little. But Middlesex's captain needed some reliable company - and Dexter, perhaps somewhat surprisingly given most of his Championship scores this season, proved ideally suited to the role.

Warwickshire, currently third, are unlikely to win the title. And Middlesex, who may be third from bottom by tomorrow night, should not go down. But stranger things have happened, on both counts, and had Jeetan Patel enjoyed one of his best days with the ball then this contest might be in the grip of the Bears despite the loss of 89 overs yesterday.

As it was, Dexter - having carefully negotiated 14 deliveries before lunch - deposited Patel's third ball of the afternoon beyond the rope at wide midwicket to get off the mark and then proceeded to nullify any threat the former New Zealand spinner tried to pose.

Dexter could hardly have been brimming with confidence. True, he made an unbeaten 163 against Northants in mid-May but the next seven innings yielded just 76 runs. And even before that century there had been five single figure failures in seven knocks.

No matter. Despite Middlesex's worsening league position, director of cricket Angus Fraser has urged the team not to play with fear in their hearts, and Dexter followed that advice to the letter. Using his feet to get down the pitch whenever possible and driving with both power and precision, he was primarily responsible for Patel's first eight overs costing 47 runs.

The home team had been a worrying 65 for 3 with the follow-on mark of 213 looking somewhat distant. But Rogers - never at his most commanding best but as determined as ever - and Dexter banished any worries about falling short of that figure with a stand of 127.

Both should have gone on to make centuries, of course, yet neither did. Rogers went first, to a leg-side strangle, and then - having become somewhat becalmed either side of tea - Dexter gifted Recordo Gordon a second wicket by pulling a long hop straight to midwicket.

Still, Robson would probably have taken either of those dismissals in place of the one that ended his first innings back with Middlesex since early June.

The opener has played seven Tests for England this summer and has a century, against Sri Lanka, to his name. But he averaged under 24 against India with many a pundit suggesting he has a problem over what to play and what to leave on and around off stump.

Today, as against India at Old Trafford, Robson lost his off stump after choosing not to offer a stroke - Hannon-Dalby's delivery holding its line rather than moving away down the Lord's slope. It did not look great, and neither did Middlesex's position when two more wickets fell, but help was soon at hand.