Eskinazi grit keeps Middlesex above water

Middlesex 302 for 6 (Eskinazi 178*) trail Warwiclshire 334 (Clarke 83, Lamb 51) by 32 runs

The considerable fillip Warwickshire drew from dismissing Sam Robson for a third-ball duck was counterbalanced by a century from Stevie Eskinazi in which the South Africa-born batsman produced some good, aggressive strokeplay but also had to show some gritty qualities and ride his luck.

Eskinazi, whose 157 against Yorkshire at Scarborough this time last year was one of the key innings of Middlesex's title-winning season, doubled his tally of career first-class centuries to four with his second of this season, consolidating his position as leading run-scorer.

Although born in Johannesburg, Eskinazi has an English mother and a Zimbabwe-born father and after playing some junior cricket in Hampshire moved with his family to Perth, in Western Australia, where he played representative state cricket at under-17 and under-19.

Goodness knows where that leaves him in terms of nationality, although that is a matter for another day. For the moment, he is unbeaten on 178, having overtaken his Scarborough scored to guarantee himself a new career-best with his 23rd four after more than five hours at the crease.

By the close, against the team propping up the table and desperate to find a first win, he had hit 24 fours and pulled Boyd Rankin for three sixes, which were impressive statistics, although he had been well into three figures before he began to look properly comfortable.

At times earlier he had looked anything but, as was illustrated, even on 116 and 124 against a ball that was 55 overs old, when he twice edged Rankin to the boundary through gaps in the cordon.

Another difficult over earlier in the day had seen Rikki Clarke beat him twice but somehow miss the stumps. There was a close call on a run-out too and, not long afterwards, a sharp chance offered to wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose when Jeetan Patel entered the attack after 31 overs and Eskinazi was on 56.

All of that followed a massive appeal for a catch in the gully off the first ball he faced, which was turned down on the basis that the deflection was off pads only.

How different the day might have been had the finger gone up at that moment, given that Keith Barker, spearing the ball in from around the wicket, had dismissed Robson leg-before with the immediately previous delivery. Robson has twice hit a double-hundred against Warwickshire.

But if he was lucky at times, Eskinazi might reasonably claim he earned it on a pitch of unreliable bounce that had a nasty surprise in store for a number of batsman.

Earlier in the day, Barker had been denied a half-century with the bat when he was deceived into playing too soon at a ball from Tim Murtagh, connecting with a leading edge. Murtagh, going down low in his follow-through, took a good return catch.

Nick Compton suffered in a more painful way, hit first in the box and then on the inside of the left knee by balls that did not get up. The second blow forced him to retire on 12, although he was able to return after the fall of the next wicket, when Patel's second ball accounted for Dawid Malan, who went back to cut but could only nudge the ball into the gloves of Ambrose, who this time held the chance, albeit none too tidily.

Like Nick Gubbins, who was left out of this match through lack of runs, Compton has not had a productive season. It would have been a toss up between the two of them as to who stood aside to make way for Robson's return from the Lions. Compton's hundred against Essex last week came at just the right moment.

He did not look vastly more on top of things in his second spell at the crease and had reached 33 when Clarke returned for a new spell and had him caught behind off a thin edge with his second delivery.

That left Middlesex 195 for 3, following which a terrific catch from Matt Lamb at point in the next over ensured Paul Stirling's stay was brief, the 20-year-old hanging on to a full-blooded cut off Rankin.

After a mostly sunny day, Patel increasingly came into his own deep into the final session, when he had John Simpson caught off bat and pad at short leg and Ryan Higgins caught behind, feathering a catch after shaping to cut.

Spin could become a bigger factor still on the last two days, so Middlesex will look to Eskinazi to squeeze out a few more runs yet to give them a lead.