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Rayner the toast of overdue Lord's win

Middlesex 536 for 9 dec (Gubbins 145, Compton 131, Roland-Jones 66, Franklin 56*) beat Durham 204 (Rayner 4-17, Franklin 3-26) and 252 (Rayner 5-85) by an innings and 80 runs
Scorecard

August 15 is late in summer for a first home victory. Yet not until Graham Onions chipped Ollie Rayner to midwicket had Middlesex been able to toast a triumph at Lord's, their primary home, in the 2016 County Championship. Even allowing for a victory in their single home game away from HQ, it has been an exasperating wait.

Five times Middlesex had played Championship matches at Lord's; five times they had ended in draws. So they will be entitled to feel as if they have not merely defeated Durham, but also the pitch here. After a succession of slow pitches in previous home games, here Middlesex got a one with more pace, bounce and carry: a fine surface for Championship cricket.

No one exploited it better than Rayner. If his limits - the absence of prodigious turn or anything resembling a doosra - are well-know, Rayner has made himself into an indispensable cricketer for Middlesex, and one of the finest spin bowlers in the county game.

It has been a triumph for willpower, resolve and bloodymindedness. Rayner moved from Sussex, his home town club, in pursuit of more opportunities. He had to remodel his action after being called for throwing. He has honed his batting to make himself harder to drop, last year declaring: "When I see young kids around the grounds in county matches and their mums tell me that they bowl spin and do I have any tips for them, I say, yeah, learn to bat." Never has Rayner shied from bowling when conditions are toughest.

Last year, Jeetan Patel criticised English spinners for not spending enough time honing their art. "Without wishing to sound full of self-pity, it is not easy being an English spin bowler at this moment in time", Rayner wrote for ESPNcricinfo in response. "I, like many other spinners around the country, bowl the majority of my overs on green pitches such as Lord's where we are often being used in short bursts to pick up the over rate."

Those days are over. Rayner has moved from being a stock bowler to one entrusted to take wickets at crucial times. Indeed, when Durham's openers had begun serenely on the first day, Rayner was tossed the ball at 12.12pm. He promptly took 4 for 17.

Here, when Rayner punched the air in jubilation at the match-clinching wicket - he is never one to knowingly undercelebrate any wicket, prizing each as if it is his last - it was the latest proof of his growing importance to Middlesex. A few minutes later, Rayner doffed his caps to the MCC members, and had the honour of leading Middlesex off. How he had earned the right. Rayner had done what spinners are meant to, bowling Middlesex to victory in the second innings. Match figures of 9 for 102, and a haul of 35 Championship wickets at 22.51 this season, are a triumph for his thirst for self-improvement - and, perhaps, the ECB's attempts to encourage spin bowling.

"Ollie was still a good spinner last year but because his understanding of what he's trying to do has improved, I think he's really improved as a spin bowler," James Franklin, Middlesex's captain in this game, said. "The wickets have obviously helped: it helps when you see the ball grip as a spinner, so I think he's taken huge confidence and encouragement from what he's done this year.

"Ollie is starting to understand his art, and the different paces that he needs to bowl on different wickets and to different batsmen and also the field's he's setting. He's prepared to give the ball a bit of air this year, and long may that continue."

For Middlesex these three days could scarcely have gone better. Frolics from Toby Roland-Jones lifted their lead to 332 in the morning while, in between Rayner's wickets in the afternoon, Harry Podmore showcased a strong repeatable action in a fine spell that included the scalp of Paul Collingwood, playing on to a ball that nipped back down the slope. It was the latest evidence of the depth of Middlesex's squad; even the absence of Steve Finn, Eoin Morgan, Sam Robson and an overseas player for this game never looked like stymying them. "We don't just back 12 or 13 players - we back the whole squad" Franklin said. "Guys like Stevie Eskinazi have come in and had an outstanding start to their careers. Harry Podmore's another one."

But Durham could reflect with no pride on their performance in this game. Unbeaten until August, this was their second consecutive defeat inside three days. While at Taunton they had reason to grumble about the pitch, here they had no excuse: if the Lord's track had bounce and turn on the third day, it only magnified Durham's implosion on the first day, when 74 for 0 became 74 for 4 in 17 crushing deliveries.

"It was a good toss to win but we didn't take advantage of that," Collingwood said. "We didn't have the desire to get through hard periods and the desire to score good runs when we had the best of the conditions." The weaknesses of his side's batting are obvious, and will be exacerbated by the departure of Mark Stoneman to Surrey. A good thing, then, that Keaton Jennings has just signed on for another four years: when he thrashed Roland-Jones through the covers, Jennings became the first man this summer to 1000 Championship runs.

Even his 45 could only briefly delay Middlesex's waltz to victory. As Lord's basked in blissful sunshine, and Middlesex's players headed to the Lord's Tavern for a well-earned post-match pint - they have the rare luxury of a 16-day wait until their next fixture in any competition - they could revel in having opened up a hearty gap at the summit of Division One. While onerous fixtures at Edgbaston, Trent Bridge and Old Trafford await, it would be remiss of Middlesex not to dream of lifting the County Championship crown when they next return to Lord's, to play Yorkshire on September 20. "It would be immodest of me to say 'no we're not'," Franklin smiled, a thoroughly contented stand-in skipper who will now hand the reins back to Adam Voges. "There's an opportunity there."