Middlesex 260 for 7 (Simpson 73*) vs Leicestershire
Middlesex feel they would have doubled their wins tally for the season but for the badly-timed arrival of rain at The Kia Oval last week and arrived here with a sense of relative optimism after another season in which that mood has been experienced only intermittently.
Moreover, against the only team in Group Two with a worse record than theirs, they have at least given themselves a chance of securing the second win that eluded them last week, following a fightback from 132 for 6 in the final session.
Increasingly frustrated with senior players unable to summon consistent form, Middlesex's selection policy is shifting towards giving younger players their head. With the 39-year-old Tim Murtagh rested, the average age of their bowling attack here drops dramatically to 23.
Youngest among them is the legspinning allrounder Luke Hollman, who will not be 21 until mid-September. He and the 22-year-old left-armer Thilan Walallawita, with eight first-class appearances between them, have been backed to exploit what promises to be a turning pitch, which is a fair vote of confidence from head coach Stuart Law.
In the meantime, Hollman has already made an impression with the bat. Playing in only his third first-class match, he batted almost two hours for his 32 - his highest red-ball score so far - and his support for John Simpson rescued a day that had threatened to leave Leicestershire in firm control. Tall, strongly built and, as he has already demonstrated in T20 cricket, a powerful hitter, this showed that he can also keep an end up with a high degree of competence.
The pair put on 90 for the seventh wicket, turning a position that had looked decidedly pessimistic at 132 for 6 midway through the afternoon into one that may yet look pretty useful. Although the two Middlesex spinners lack experience, batting last on it could be a difficult proposition for a home side yet to win a match.
Middlesex would have been expected to finish with something near to their closing score after a morning's work that saw them suffer only one loss for 73 runs when Sam Robson was leg before to a flighted delivery from Callum Parkinson, the left-arm spinner, who found enough in the pitch early on to suggest Middlesex's decision to pick two spinners might be a smart move.
Two more setbacks followed soon after lunch, rewarding an impressive return to action for Will Davis, making his first appearance since a pre-season ankle injury. The in-form Nick Gubbins was leg before trying to work a full-length ball from the right-arm seamer, who followed up by having Stevie Eskinazi caught low down at second slip for 38.
Recalled for the first time in six matches, having been dropped after the defeats against Somerset and Hampshire that began Middlesex's season, Eskinazi would have been disappointed not to cash in after seeing the shine off the new ball but Davis, who bowled very few loose deliveries, produced enough late movement to find the edge as the batter sought to defend on the front foot.
Peter Handscomb, their Australian captain, essayed a couple of nice sweep shots for four off Parkinson but the pattern of Middlesex batters failing to build on decent starts continued when he was lbw on the back foot to Ed Barnes, who like Davis bowled with good control.
Five overs later, a promising position for Leicestershire turned into one they celebrated with rare enthusiasm in front of an appreciative crowd as Parkinson claimed two wickets in two balls. The Lancastrian, instinctively an attacking bowler who likes to make things happen, dismissed Robbie White with a flighted ball he edged to slip before Martin Andersson was beaten by one that turned past his defensive bat to strike him on the back pad. Hollman plonked a solid block behind the hat-trick ball before getting off the mark with a straight hit to the boundary over the bowler's head but from a Leicestershire perspective, tea at 148 for 6 came as an unwelcome pause.
Yet there was only one further reward as Simpson and Hollman dutifully applied themselves to the task. Parkinson could not maintain his hot streak and though the seamers kept their discipline they could find only one further breakthrough, Hollman eventually playing down the wrong line to one from Barnes with the second new ball that clipped the outside of his off stump.
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