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Eskinazi responds with hundred after blow on helmet

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County Championship Round-up: Notts proving too good (1:20)

Catch up with the latest County Championship action as James Pattinson inspires Notts to a comfortable two-day win over Sussex. (1:20)

Essex 120 for 4 trail Middlesex 507 for 7 dec (Robson 149, Gubbins 101, Eskinazi 100) by 387 runs
Scorecard

At 12:53, Stevie Eskinazi was hit on the back of the head by a nasty, rearing short delivery from Neil Wagner. Eskinazi remained standing, but immediately dropped his bat to the ground. After seven minutes of being treated on the field and being put through concussion tests by Middlesex's physio, Eskinazi decided to carry on batting, with a changed helmet. Three hours later, he had a century to toast.

Even before the blow, Eskinazi had endured a jittery start to the day against Warner's aggression and probing seam bowling from Jamie Porter. Yet after being struck, when he had 36, Eskinazi eased away from austere survival and showcased his rounded and assured game.

Wagner terrorised Somerset at Taunton last week, admittedly on a somewhat livelier pitch, but even though he hit Eskinazi he found him a stauncher opponent.

Eskinazi's outstanding shot is his cut - he played delicious consecutive cuts off Porter, has the precision and control to play the shot either through third man or in front of point and hit seven fours between third man and extra cover. His aptitude playing the shot, and courageous defence when confronting Wagner, another man with South African roots, reflects his background.

Eskinazi was born in Johannesburg but raised in Perth, and played for Western Australia underage sides before being recommended to Middlesex by former England batsman Chris Smith; Eskinazi has a British passport on account of his mum being born in England. You could even call him - controversially at election time - a citizen of the world.

"A lot of my cricket education came playing on the back foot, on quick bouncy wickets. Playing underage cricket in the WACA nets is always going to bring that," Eskinazi said.

This was Eskinazi's third hundred in only first-class 22 innings, following on from centuries against Yorkshire, in Middlesex's crucial innings victory at Scarborough last year, and Lancashire in 2016. Unobtrusively, he has become a number three of dependability and adaptability.

It is another reflection of Middlesex's success nurturing young players in recent years, and how the dearth of opportunities in the first team engenders ruthlessness among players when their chance does arise; Eskinazi spent three seasons plundering runs in the second team before his chance arose, and promptly hit two centuries in his first four innings.

"Spending that time in the second team really gives you the hunger and motivation to try and make that spot your own," he said. "You can never rest easy - you know that you need to work bloody hard to retain your spot."

Eskinazi's hundred here meant that all of Middlesex's top three scored centuries in the first innings. None of the trio have ever played for another county; at the ages of 23, 23 and 27 (in Sam Robson's case), they could each be playing at Lord's for another decade or more.

The main beneficiary of Eskinazi's earlier graft - all of which he needed against Porter, who beat his inside and then outside edge in consecutive deliveries with the second new ball - was John Simpson. He relishes the freedom granted by his team pushing towards a declaration, and used his feet with alacrity while Essex resorted to spin, becoming less focused upon wickets and more preoccupied on raising their lethargic over rate. Three overs after Eskinazi was bowled having an ugly hoick at his first ball after scoring a century, Simpson was stumped. only ten shy of Middlesex's fourth century of the innings.

The only frustration for Middlesex came in the 110th over of their innings. Eskinazi's equanimity and poise gave way to a batsman backed away and flailing at Neil Wagner in pursuit of the 12 needed from the over to get a fifth batting point. They required only 50 from 12 overs before Eskinazi became stuck: "Unfortunately the harder I tried to score the slower I scored." Typically, his fluency restored, two boundaries came in the 111th over.

As the morning gloom - bad light delayed play by 20 minutes, a result of the precedent set by the umpires the previous evening - gave way to glorious late afternoon sunshine, so Alastair Cook walked out to bat for Essex. He promptly clipped his first ball off his hip for four, and then unfurled added a cut and pull, swatted through midwicket, of imperious authority.

But, reunited with the Pavilion End from which he had secured the 2016 Championship title with a hat-trick, Toby Roland-Jones found a little movement away from Cook to elicit an edge.

Both Nick Browne and Tom Westley recognised that this remained an excellent batting wicket. Neither looked remotely perturbed during their innings yet, by the end of a gargantuan morning session, both were dismissed. Steven Finn surprised Westley with a sharp delivery that nipped back, and, via his pad, deflected onto his offstump; Rayner's perseverance was rewarded with Browne's dismissal, lbw to a ball straightening. Then, for good measure, Toby Roland-Jones squeezed a yorker through the defences of the nightwatchman Porter, leaving Middlesex feeling palpably buoyant when, a little before 7:30, their Saturday nights began.

And so, after drawing their first five games at Lord's last summer, Middlesex departed with hope they would mark their return here with a victory. Yet the feeling remained: for all the excellence of their players, Middlesex might find playing at Lord's is an encumbrance to their prospects of retaining the title for the first time since 1921.