Middlesex 280 for 6 (Robson 110, Malan 73, Napier 3-52) v Essex Scorecard
It was an unproductive day for England batsmen at Lord's. Ravi Bopara, desperate for form, bowled five overs and spent most of his time at cover, Alastair Cook parked himself at slip or gully and Owais Shah, an outside candidate to bolster England's flimsy line-up, managed 8.
And just to brighten the mood of the England selectors, the innings of the day came from a 20-year-old Australian. Sam Robson, born in Sydney, staged a Middlesex recovery with his maiden first-class century alongside South African-born Dawid Malan. Their combined age is less than two years more than Mark Ramprakash, but it only went to highlight a major problem in English cricket. A lack of good home-grown talent.
To be fair on Robson he has committed himself to qualifying for England and began his five-year residency period at the start of this season. He made his second XI and one-day debuts last year and this summer has been given the role vacated by Phillip Hughes, a former schoolmate of Robson. It was a nervous wait as he approached three figures - and there was nearly a mix-up with Gareth Berg - but eventually Robson worked a two past mid-on from his 255th ball. It certainly wasn't flashy, but instead hard-working, determined and solid. What England would give for a bit of that next week.
The closest there was to success for an England player was Graham Napier, and his international career only extends as far as the World Twenty20 squad earlier this year. He bowled with good pace from the Pavilion End on a fairly docile surface, extracting three wickets either side of lunch. At the moment England need batsmen, but very soon they'll need another allrounder. Napier is averaging 48 with the bat and 30 with the ball in four-day cricket this year while English allrounders normally have numbers the other way round.
His second scalp was Shah, who played round a straight ball, when a major innings would at least have kept his name in the selectors' minds. However, even a scorching hundred - such as the 129 out of 226 he made against Derbyshire - probably wouldn't have been enough to expand on six Test caps. Everyone is talking about Ramprakash's unfulfilled talent, but Shah's spluttering Test career could end up on a par.
Before Shah's failure, Nick Compton cut lazily to cover where Bopara took a sharp, low catch - a not insignificant moment after some of his sloppy fielding in the Test series. After lunch Eoin Morgan (his star appears to have faded recently) who laboured for 40 balls over 4, was well caught down the leg side by James Foster to leave Middlesex struggling on 64 for 3 and making Mark Pettini's decision to bowl appear less of a gamble.
It has been a difficult season for Middlesex and before this match only Shah had passed 500 runs in the Championship, so the recovery staged by Robson and Malan will have boosted spirits. Caution was the watchword for both as they ensured against further losses in the face of a disciplined Essex attack.
Malan, who has made his name with some dashing one-day innings, restrained himself with 109-ball half-century but did open his shoulders against Bopara's medium pace and played one dismissive lofted drive over mid-on. Their stand of 143 in 43 was eventually broken by the preserving Danish Kaneria, after a switch to the Pavilion End, when he drew an edge from Malan that was taken at slip. Then just like the clichéd London bus, another came along straight away when Ben Scott was trapped leg before.
However, the innings was given another kick by the in-form Berg. He twice notched career-best scores in the previous match against Kent - where Middlesex registered their first Championship victory of the season - including a vital 98 in the second innings. Here he dominated the sixth-wicket stand of 55 as Robson sweated on his hundred.
Robson couldn't quite put the finishing touches to his determined innings when he played across the line to Tony Palladino, but scoring a maiden first-class century at Lord's means he won't forget this day in a while.