If tradition and resources had any bearing on performance then Middlesex v Surrey would be a marquee match. The city slickers with Test grounds and, until recently in Surrey's case, big wallets, should be lording it over the shire sides. As it is, these teams finished at the foot of Division Two last season and have not met in the top flight since 2005.
With patience, not to mention cash, dwindling, this season had to mark an improvement and after hundreds for Neil Dexter and John Simpson in a mammoth 254-stand that hoisted Middlesex from 88 for 4, it's they who look best placed to make a promotion tilt this season. The pair negotiated the Tiflex swing early on before cashing in under the evening sun to close the day 368 for 5.
It was a triumph for Dexter who took over the captaincy when Shaun Udal resigned mid-season last year. Though Middlesex have won their opening games their jittery batting hasn't inspired confidence and they needed him to haul them out of trouble again. Yasir Arafat had broken his season's duck in his third match by taking three wickets in his opening spell and with Gareth Batty making it four before lunch gloomy Middlesex fans were fearing the worst.
Dexter though was untroubled from the start and absorbed the pressure while Simpson took 23 balls to get off the mark. Once the shackles broke the runs came at a canter with 134 added between lunch and tea and another 142 in the final session.
Dexter lifted Batty into the pavilion to bring up his fifty and twice swatted Rory Hamilton-Brown's gentle spin to the midwicket, one of which carried for six. With the swing long-since departed proceedings in the evening session looked very easier for Middlesex pair and Dexter reached his century by driving sweetly back past Jade Dernbach. The next ball he was dropped at slip by Hamilton-Brown. That was the only chance he offered until he fell late in the day and celebrated the reprieve by punching the next delivery wide of mid-off.
Simpson was less expansive but equally solid and reached his own hundred in the 81st over, nudging Tim Linley to fine leg. He is in the side ahead of Ben Scott for his batting and looks far happier down the order having been made to bat in the top three last season.
By the latter stages Surrey were toothless. The second new ball came and went to the boundary. Though they had Chris Jordan back for the time since 2009 they missed the injured Stuart Meaker, who has been their best bowler so far this season.
Jordan was understandably rusty early on but produced his best spell just before the close and was rewarded with Dexter's wicket with the Middlesex captain spooning a catch to mid-off for 145, a run shy of his highest first-class score.
It was Jordan's senior partner, Dernbach, who the England selector James Whitaker will have been watching most keenly though. Despite his muscular pace, however, he bowled too short and never really threatened. Chris Tremlett would have been useful, but part of his reward for nudging Steven Finn out of the England side is that he gets to enjoy an extended rest. Finn, on the other hand, will be in action during the second day.