Middlesex close on first win after perfect day
Hampshire 131 (Murtagh 4-33, Roland-Jones 4-49) and 62 for 3 trail Middlesex 467 for 3 (Voges 160*, Simpson 100*) by 274 runs
As Brendon McCullum watched on from the balcony atop this beautiful, expansive ground's quaint, wisteria-covered pavilion, he would have been forgiven for wondering quite how his new Middlesex team-mates have failed to win in the Championship this season. Six games, six draws. There is mitigation: half of those games have taken place on the deadest of Lord's tracks, while they have lost a staggering 618 overs - 103 out of each game - to rain. The top order has been making runs, the bowlers have been taking wickets, yet not a result in sight.
After a performance as perfect as this - in which John Simpson became their third batsman to score a brilliant ton, and Tim Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones shared nine Hampshire wickets - it is only rain that can deny them now. A downpour is forecast for Tuesday, but the heavy lifting is done; surely, across the final two days, the clouds will lift to allow them time to take the seven remaining Hampshire wickets, after they were made to follow on. On the basis of the second day's play, that should not take long.
Angus Fraser talks about the "Middlesex DNA", the personality traits he wants to define his team, which is a rather hazy concept for those on the outside, but crystal clear to all in a united, friendly, laugh-a-minute dressing room. It was there last week, when Nick Gubbins, the baby of the side - and thus victim of a few pranks - was so touched to be taken out for drinks by his team-mates upon finally reaching a Championship ton, having three times fallen in the 90s. It was visible here, when James Fuller took his first - then second and third - Championship wickets for the club, and the back-slapping seemed to last for hours. It is audible every time Ollie Rayner or Murtagh let out their big barks, their umms and ahhs in the field; each gag is raucously laughed at, each achievement raucously celebrated.
It was perhaps most obvious, however, as Adam Voges and Simpson came out and flayed to all parts in the morning session - with clouds low and fielders' fingers freezing - to add a quickfire 125 in just 19.2 overs and set up a perfect declaration, allowing the bowlers 30 minutes before lunch, upon the completion of Simpson's rocking, rollicking century. Roland-Jones described their efforts, to which Simpson contributed 72 off 61 this morning as Voges, who finished 160 not out turned the strike over, as "selfless, but highly skilful too".
"It's never easy to go out and force the issue that clearly," Roland-Jones said. "They set the tone, playing so positively to get ahead so quickly and we exploited the conditions that were out there."
Simpson, such a pugnacious, powerful batsman, played a dazzling hand. There was a front-foot pull for six off James Tomlinson, then another six to cow, and reverse-swept and straight-driven fours, all of Liam Dawson, as 22 were pilfered from five balls. Each came with crack cleaner than the last. Hampshire, on a pitch described by Roland-Jones as "pretty consistent, but always offering enough to the bowlers with enough lateral movement," had been thoroughly beaten up by brilliant batting. They looked utterly demoralised.
Either side of lunch, the nippy, nagging excellence of Murtagh and the Fraser-ish, bouncy Roland-Jones, a veritable nightmare bowling down the hill, bowled 11- and 10-over spells respectively. As Roland-Jones's lift continually beat the outside edge, Murtagh's off-stump line accounted for the top three. Sean Ervine and Dawson - who drove beautifully straight - dug in to share 34, Hampshire's largest partnership of the day, but a screaming Sam Robson catch at gully saw off Dawson, and before long Rayner's bounce gave his first over the wicket of Joe Weatherley. Murtagh returned to find Ervine's edge, and Roland-Jones docked a limp tail.
Hampshire's horrid day was summed up by Tino Best, so hot against Nottinghamshire last week, so very cold today. There he was, at the end of the day's first over, calling the 12th man on for a second jumper - to be fair, it was chilly enough to force umpire Neil Mallender to don gloves - but soon he was officially warned for beaming Voges and, later, a leading edge off Roland-Jones flew straight to mid-on. His funereal walk to and from the middle meant a one-ball innings lasted four minutes.
The follow-on was enforced without the batting of an eyelid - and may mean Hampshire, who are three behind on the over rate, end up taking -2 points from the match. Middlesex continued on their merry way, Murtagh's second ball taking the edge of Will Smith - promoted to open, before Fuller's aggressive late burst did for Michael Carberry, caught low at second slip, and Ervine - stump cartwheeling - just as the new-ball pair's exertions began to show. Off they went, revelling in their six perfect sessions and ready to meet their newest team-mate, knowing that first win is not far away.
Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp