Middlesex 106 for 1 (Strauss 43) trail Gloucestershire 218 (Brown 68, Richardson 5-34) by 112 runs
Although the season has almost a month to run, there was a distinctly autumnal feel to proceedings at a chilly Lord's in a game with little at stake in terms of promotion. Middlesex, beset by rumours of internal disharmony and possible player exits, nevertheless did enough to take charge against a Gloucestershire side rooted to the bottom and without a Championship win all year.
Shaun Udal lost his first toss as Middlesex captain but it wasn't too costly. Gloucestershire struggled against a moving ball and Middlesex's seam attack had them five down by lunch. David Brown (68) and Steve Snell (31) showed some fight after the interval, but Alan Richardson returned to nip out the tail and record his first five-wicket haul of an injury-hit summer.
Richardson and Tim Murtagh caused no end of problems on a greenish pitch. William Porterfield fell leg-before half forward and then Kabir Ali played on to leave the visitors 6 for 2. The rest of the session was punctuated by frequent lbw shouts and a few edges, only one of which, to Murali Kartik at second slip, was spilled. Steve Finn removed Hamish Marshall with his first ball when he replaced Murtagh at the Nursery End, and Billy Godelman took a smart short-leg catch to account for Chris Taylor.
At that stage Gloucestershire were 39 for 4 and looking likely to roll over, but at last Alex Gidman found in Brown someone prepared to dig. The pair steadied the innings only for Gidman to play on when Murtagh returned shortly before lunch.
Oddly, the batting appeared easier in the first hour of the afternoon when the cloud cover was low. But once Finn nipped one back to trap Brown leg-before, there was little resistance. Richardson, in his third spell from the Pavilion End, benefited from some loose strokeplay to finish with 5 for 34 as the last three wickets went down in three overs.
By the time Middlesex started their reply the sun was out but appearances were misleading. It was bitterly cold with a cutting breeze coming from behind the pavilion.
Gloucestershire's seamers posed few problems once the shine was off the ball, and the left-handed opening pair of Andrew Strauss and Godelman were rarely troubled. Both played well off their legs, and there was no shortage of opportunity to do so. Brown and Steve Kirby occasionally looked threatening, but there was little else to rouse the sparse crowd.
Strauss eventually brought about his own downfall with a mistimed pull, and while that slowed the scoring rate, Middlesex continued to make steady progress. Ed Joyce, relived of the burden of captaincy in a bid to find form, and reportedly still in negotiations over his county future, started cautiously before unleashing two superb drives, one straight off the front foot immediately followed by an even better shot going back.
Unsurprisingly in a wretched summer, the forecast for the next three days is poor. On today's showing, the weather is about the only hope Gloucestershire have of avoiding yet another defeat.