DAY FOUR - CLOSE OF PLAY

MATCH DRAWN

Middlesex were frustrated by a combination of bad light and lower-order resistance as Essex clung on for a draw in the Specsavers County Championship at Lord’s.

The champions were on course for their first win of the season when they reduced Essex, who were chasing a notional target of 452, to 130 for 7 in the first over after tea.

But eighth wicket pair Neil Wagner and Simon Harmer blunted Middlesex’s attack for 15 overs and as the light deteriorated home skipper James Franklin was forced to employ slow bowlers at both ends.

Leg spinner Dawid Malan immediately had Harmer (20) lbw as he tried to defend off the back foot but only two more overs were possible before umpires Ian Gould and Paul Baldwin took the players off for the third time in the day with 13 overs remaining, Essex 160 for 8 and Wagner unbeaten on 16.  

It was harsh on Middlesex whose three-man seam attack, backed up by off-spinner Ollie Rayner, had chipped away all day on a wicket which hardly deteriorated, even though cloud cover did encourage the ball to swing.

Toby Roland-Jones finished with 3 for 42 and Steven Finn 2 for 39 while it was Rayner picked up former England captain Alastair Cook caught at short leg for 37 with his third delivery of the day. Cook had passed 20,000 first-class runs when he reached 16 and looked in the mood to repeat last week’s century in Essex’s win over Somerset, particularly when he drove first Tim Murtagh and then Roland-Jones back down the ground for four.

Apart from Cook, Essex’s main resistance came from Ravi Bopara (32) who dug in for just over two hours before he was seventh out in the first over after tea to a ball from Finn which jagged back sharply to knock back his off stump.

Conditions were as good as they had been all day at that stage but Harmer and Neil Wagner defied Finn and Roland-Jones for ten overs to give them their team the chance of escape.

Franklin had the luxury of runs on the board and enjoyed the happy knack of making bowling changes which brought immediate reward. Middlesex’s slip fielding was faultless too with Malan epitomising their catching performance when he dived to his left to remove Adam Wheater for a duck in the first over of a new spell from Roland-Jones.

Earlier, Essex had added 19 runs to their overnight 19 for 0 when Tim Murtagh made the breakthrough, bowling Nick Browne (19) through the gate.

Cook and Tom Westley took the score to 74 when Westley (13) was lbw to a ball from Roland-Jones that kept a touch low. Cook fell without addition to the total and after lunch Essex lost two wickets  on 104 when Dan Lawrence (13) was held at slip driving at Finn before Wheater’s dismissal.

Ryan ten Doeschate (1) became Roland-Jones’ third victim but rain and bad light forced the teams off for an hour after a two-over stoppage during the morning.

Bopara’s dismissal on the resumption left the Essex tail with 30 overs to survive but with a little help from the weather they were able to do so. Middlesex picked up 12 points, Essex 8.

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DAY FOUR - TEA REPORT

ESSEX SECOND INNINGS 130 for 6 - trailing by 321 runs

Middlesex’s bid for a first win in the defence of their County Championship title was frustrated by bad light and rain at Lord’s.

Umpires Ian Gould and Paul Baldwin took the players off at 3.10pm with Essex, who had been set a notional 452 to win, struggling on 130 for 6.

Having reduced Essex to 84 for 3 at lunch, the champions took three more wickets in the afternoon as their seam attack held sway in ideal bowling conditions.

Steven Finn had Dan Lawrence (13) caught at first slip by Adam Voges then Middlesex struck twice with the score on 104. Adam Wheater fell to the third ball of a new spell from Toby Roland-Jones when he drove to fourth slip before Ryan ten Doeschate was held at third slip by skipper James Franklin.

Ravi Bopara was doing his best to hold the innings together with an unbeaten 32 but rain appears to be Essex’s only hope of avoiding defeat.

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DAY FOUR - LUNCH REPORT

ESSEX SECOND INNINGS 84 for 3 - trail Middlesex by 367 runs

Ollie Rayner removed former England captain Alastair Cook with his third ball as champions Middlesex took three wickets in the morning session against Essex at Lord’s.

Chasing an academic 452 for victory, Essex were 84 for 3 at lunch.

Rayner claimed the key wicket when Cook, who had looked untroubled in reaching 37, was taken at short leg by Steve Eskinazi as he pushed forward to a ball which turned a fraction.

Essex, who began the final day on 19 for 0, lost Nick Browne (19) when he was bowled through the gate by Tim Murtagh. Cook and Tom Westley took the score to 74 with Cook playing a couple of eye-catching straight drives for four as he passed 20,000 first-class runs when he reached 16.

But Middlesex broke through when Toby Roland-Jones switched to the nursery end and trapped Westley lbw for 13 with a ball which kept a shade low.

Cook went with no addition to the score but Dan Lawrence, who top scored with 75 in Essex’s first innings, and Ravi Bopara got through unscathed to lunch, by which time the light rain which had cost two overs at the start of the day was threatening to return. 

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DAY THREE - CLOSE OF PLAY

Essex 19-0

Trail Middlesex by 432 runs

Stevie Eskinazi hit five of his last nine balls for six and the equally in-form opening pair of Sam Robson and Nick Gubbins added a quickfire 146-run stand to their first innings partnership of 241 after champions Middlesex chose not to enforce the follow on against outclassed Essex at Lord’s.
 
Eskinazi, the No 3 who joined Robson and Gubbins in hitting centuries in Middlesex’s huge first innings 507 for 7 declared, thumped a whirlwind 62 from 34 balls – going to his fifty in the course of swatting three successive sixes into the Grand Stand off Jamie Porter.
 
He actually hit four sixes in a row, with another off Simon Harmer before he lofted the former South African Test off spinner to long on from the next ball, and also struck five fours to go with those five sweet sixes.
 
Robson made a fluent 77 from 84 balls and Gubbins hit two sixes in a 62-ball 64 when Middlesex opted to bat again despite earning a 212-run lead by dismissing Essex for 295, with Steven Finn finishing with 4 for 51.
 
Middlesex’s second innings declaration came after a sprint to 239 for 3 from 36 overs and, by stumps, needing a surely academic 452 to win, Essex were 19 without loss from six overs with Nick Browne on 17 not out and Alastair Cook unbeaten on 2.
 
Earlier, a fighting sixth wicket stand of 127 between Dan Lawrence and Adam Wheater was the only resistance of note that Essex could offer against the county champions as Middlesex continued to dominate this Specsavers Division One match.
 
Wheater rode his luck to score a punchy 64, with ten fours, while impressive 19-year-old Lawrence batted with great determination before being ninth out for 75 In all, he stayed for four and three-quarter hours, facing 185 balls and hitting nine fours.
 
Paceman Finn bowled Neil Wagner for 3 to polish off the innings and Essex lost their last five wickets for 42 runs. But it was a luckless Toby Roland-Jones, who took 3 for 81, who was the pick of the Middlesex attack and he will look to lead the push for victory on the final day.
 
Essex began day three on 120 for 4, needing another238 runs to avoid the follow on, and were soon in deep trouble at 126 for 5 when Ravi Bopara, on 6, edged an outswinger from Roland-Jones to Robson at third slip.
 
But the Lawrence-Wheater alliance then mixed some lovely strokeplay with a hefty dollop of good fortune, with Wheater surviving three sharp chances nicked off Roland-Jones in the well-built seamer’s second spell of the morning session.
 
Wheater escaped on 27, 33 and then 42. First he edged low to second slip where Ollie Rayner could not scoop up a difficult chance, and in Roland-Jones’s second over back another edge deflected off diving wicketkeeper John Simpson’s right glove for four. It did not look, though, as if it would have carried to first slip, so Simpson was right to go for the ball.
 
Finally, Wheater thick-edged a drive to third slip where the diving Robson got his fingers to it but could not prevent the ball flying away to the boundary.
 
It was off spinner Rayner who made the breakthrough in mid-afternoon, Wheater slog-sweeping to square leg where Eskinazi showed remarkable reflexes to twist and grab the ball on the rebound after initially looking as if he had only managed to parry it.
 
Tim Murtagh and Finn, three times, then struck with the second new ball to remove Ryan ten Doeschate, Harmer, Lawrence and Wagner in quick succession. Ten Doeschate (20) and Lawrence were both lbw, while Harmer (1) mishit a pull to mid-wicket

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DAY THREE - TEA UPDATE

ESSEX 295 ALL OUT

MIDDLESEX 507-7 declared 

A fighting sixth wicket stand of 127 between Dan Lawrence and Adam Wheater could not save Essex from the prospect of following on against champions Middlesex in the Specsavers County Championship Division One match at Lord’s.

Wheater rode his luck to score a punchy 64, while impressive 19-year-old Lawrence resisted with great determination before being ninth out for 75 as Essex were dismissed for 295 in reply to Middlesex’s first innings 507 for 7 declared.

Steven Finn bowled Neil Wagner for 3 to finish off the innings and earn figures of 4 for 51 as Essex lost their last five wickets for 42 runs. If the follow on was enforced, Essex were due to start their second innings after tea with a deficit still of 212.

Essex began day three on 120 for 4, needing another238 runs to avoid the follow on, and were soon in deep trouble at 126 for 5 when Ravi Bopara, on 6, edged an outswinger from the outstanding Toby Roland-Jones to Sam Robson at third slip.

But the Lawrence-Wheater alliance then mixed some lovely strokeplay with a hefty dollop of good fortune, with Wheater surviving three sharp chances nicked off Roland-Jones in his second spell of the morning session.

Wheater escaped on 27, 33 and then 42. First he edged low to second slip where Ollie Rayner could not scoop up a difficult chance, and in Roland-Jones’s second over back another edge deflected off diving wicketkeeper John Simpson’s right glove for four. It did not look, though, as if it would have carried to first slip, so Simpson was right to go for the ball.

Finally, Wheater thick-edged a drive to third slip where the diving Robson got his fingers to it but could not prevent the ball flying away to the boundary.

It was Rayner who made the breakthrough in mid-afternoon, Wheater slog-sweeping to square leg where Stevie Eskinazi showed remarkable reflexes to twist and grab the ball on the rebound after initially looking as if he had only managed to parry it.

Tim Murtagh and Steven Finn, three times, then struck with the second new ball to remove Ryan ten Doeschate, Simon Harmer, Lawrence and Wagner in quick succession. Ten Doeschate (20) and Lawrence were both lbw, while Harmer (1) mishit a pull to mid-wicket.

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DAY THREE - LUNCH UPDATE

ESSEX 213-5
MIDDLESEX 507-7 (dec)

Dan Lawrence and Adam Wheater led a determined Essex fightback at Lord’s, putting on an unbroken 87 in 25 overs for the sixth wicket as Middlesex’s push for a possible innings victory was held up.  

At lunch Essex were 213 for 5 in reply to Middlesex’s huge first innings 507 for 7 declared, still requiring another 145 to avoid a follow on, but they could have been in much deeper trouble if the county champions had held their catches. Ravi Bopara’s early departure left Essex on a precarious 126 for 5, but the Lawrence-Wheater alliance then mixed some lovely strokeplay with a hefty dollop of good luck. At the interval Lawrence was on 47 not out, with Wheater unbeaten on 46.

Wheater, though, was fortunate to survive against Toby Roland-Jones, who in his first spell of a hard-fought morning session sent back Bopara for 6 with an outswinger the former England batsman edged to Sam Robson at third slip. Roland-Jones, the pick of the Middlesex bowlers in this Specsavers County Championship Division One encounter, was then re-introduced at his more usual Pavilion End and saw Wheater escape on 27, 33 and then 42.

First he edged low to second slip where Ollie Rayner could not scoop up a difficult chance, and in Roland-Jones’s second over back another nick deflected off diving wicketkeeper John Simpson’s right glove for four. It did not look, though, as if it would have carried to first slip, so Simpson was right to go for the ball.  

Finally, on 42, he thick-edged a drive to third slip where the diving Robson got his fingers to it but could not prevent the ball flying away to the boundary.

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DAY TWO - CLOSE OF PLAY

ESSEX 120 - 4
MIDDLESEX 507-7 (dec)

Essex, chasing 358 to avoid the follow-on against Middlesex at Lord’s, ended the second day on the back foot at 120 for four. 

After Middlesex declared on 507 for seven Essex soon lost England opener Alastair Cook, who pushed forward to Toby Roland-Jones and edged to the keeper for 14. Tom Westley looked in prime form, striking six fours in his 44-ball 31 but then he was bowled by a fine delivery from Steve Finn which left the batsman slightly off the pitch to hit off stump. Late in the day Nick Browne was lbw to the off-spin of Ollie Rayner and in the penultimate over night watchman Jamie Porter had his off-bail removed by Roland-Jones

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DAY TWO - TEA
MIDDLESEX - 451 - 4 

When Middlesex were 321 for three at lunch they appeared on course to pick up a maximum five batting points, with just 79 runs needed from 19 overs. They had added just ten runs to their total when Adam Voges was out, lbw to Jamie Porter for 13 as he attempted to work the ball to leg.

Stevie Eskinazi reached his fifty from 107 deliveries with a fine straight-drive off Porter, his seventh four. Middlesex batted in a way to suggest they were looking to gather a large total and did not risk that to push and secure a fifth batting point when they needed 43 off ten overs, and then 24 off four. 

John Simpson, backing up on 22, might have been run out when he attempted a single and collided with bowler Neil Wagner.  Essex broke the stumps but withdrew the appeal. At tea Middlesex are 451 for four, with Eskinazi on 94 and Simpson 54 not out, having reached his fifty from 92 balls.

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DAY TWO - LUNCH 
MIDDLESEX 321 - 3 

Batting has been more difficult for Middlesex against the Essex fast bowlers on the second day, after play started 20 minutes late because of bad light. The pitch appeared less benign than it had been on the opening day and Jamie Porter, in particular, troubled the batsmen with his lively pace.              

Middlesex, who had resumed on 255 for one, lost their second wicket with the score on 277 when Sam Robson was caught behind off Porter.  Robson had been beaten outside the off stump by a beautiful delivery the ball before and Porter then beat new batsman Dawid Malan with each of his four remaining deliveries in the 73rd over.

Malan was bowled by Ravi Bopara for 14 when, short of room defending a ball that came into him, he chopped it onto his stumps to make it 305 for three.  At lunch Middlesex are 321 for three after 91 overs. Stevie Eskinazi, who was struck a painful blow by Neil Wagner just before lunch, is on 36 with Adam Voges eight not out.

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DAY ONE - CLOSE OF PLAY

MIDDLESEX 255-1

Sam Robson and Nick Gubbins both underlined their England Test selection credentials by scoring fine hundreds and building a brilliant 241-run opening stand for Middlesex against Essex at Lord’s.

Gubbins was finally removed for 101 on the stroke of tea, caught at the wicket pushing forward to Aaron Beard, but Robson remained 144 not out with Middlesex in complete command at 255 for 1 when bad light brought an early finish to the day’s play.

Robson, 27, who played seven Tests in 2014, looked in great touch – especially with his trademark square drives, cuts and flicks off the hip – and could come into England’s selection plans again later this summer if he maintains this sort of form.

Gubbins, the 23-year-old left-hander, was close to a senior England winter tour call-up after hitting 1,409 Specsavers County Championship runs at 61.26 last year but had to be content with England Lions selection instead when first Haseeb Hameed and later Keaton Jennings were both chosen ahead of him.

 It will also have done both players no harm that England Test opener and former Test captain Alastair Cook is playing in this match and watched from close quarters as they dominated the Essex attack.

Lulled into choosing an uncontested toss by a green-looking pitch, Essex were soon regretting their decision to bowl first in Middlesex’s first home Division One match of the season.

The champions, who admitted they were rusty in their opening draw at Hampshire last week, were given the perfect start by Robson and Gubbins and, by the 55th over of the day, beleaguered Essex captain Ryan ten Doeschate was turning to his seventh bowler, part-time spinner Dan Lawrence, in an effort to break the partnership. In the end, he had to wait until the 64th over.

Robson’s was the more fluent innings, and he reached the 18th century of his first-class career with his 19th four, a thick edge to third man off Ravi Bopara, and from only 140 balls. It was the closest he came to a false stroke throughout a highly impressive knock.

Gubbins took 192 balls to reach three figures, but towards the end of his innings he struck off spinner Simon Harmer twice for six and there were also 13 fours in the 23-year-old left-hander’s excellent effort.

In all, Gubbins – who drove down the ground with authority at times – faced 195 balls, while Robson had included 24 fours from 196 balls when bad light forced the players from the field at 4.35pm.

 For Essex, Neil Wagner and Jamie Porter were the pick of the seamers but former South African Test spinner Harmer struggled on what – despite its appearance – proved to be a flat surface.

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TEA UPDATE

MIDDLESEX 241-1

Sam Robson and Nick Gubbins both completed fine hundreds as they built a double-century opening stand for Middlesex against Essex at Lord’s.

Gubbins was finally removed for 101 on the stroke of tea, caught at the wicket pushing forward to Aaron Beard, but Robson remained 131 not out with Middlesex in complete command at 241 for 1.

Lulled into choosing an uncontested toss by a green-looking pitch, Essex were soon regretting their decision to bowl first in Middlesex’s first home Specsavers County Championship Division One match of the season.

The champions, who admitted they were rusty in their opening draw at Hampshire last week, were given the perfect start by Robson and Gubbins and, by the 55th over of the day, beleaguered Essex captain Ryan ten Doeschate was turning to his seventh bowler, part-time spinner Dan Lawrence, in an effort to break the partnership.

Robson’s was the more fluent innings, and he reached the 18th century of his first-class career with his 19th four, a thick edge to third man off Ravi Bopara, and from only 140 balls. At tea, he had faced 186 balls, and had hit 22 fours.

Gubbins took 192 balls to reach three figures, but towards the end of his innings he struck off spinner Simon Harmer twice for six and there were also 13 fours in the 23-year-old left-hander’s contribution to a superb 241-run partnership.

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LUNCH UPDATE

MIDDLESEX 105-0

Openers Sam Robson and Nick Gubbins blunted Essex’s bowling attack at Lord’s by adding an unbroken 105 after the champions were asked to bat in their first home Specsavers County Championship Division One match of the season.

A green-looking pitch prompted Essex captain Ryan ten Doeschate to take the option of an uncontested toss, and bowl, but Robson (63 not out) and Gubbins (40 not out) rarely looked in trouble throughout the first session. Robson has faced 82 balls, hitting 11 fours, while Gubbins has seven fours in his 92-ball stay. 

Watched by a crowd approaching 2,500, the two Middlesex batsmen cantered along at a scoring rate approaching four runs an over – with Robson punching strokes square of the wicket in familiar fashion and the left-handed Gubbins driving impressively down the ground on what seemed an easy-paced surface. 

Essex used five bowlers in the morning session, and Ten Doeschate even gave his off spinner Simon Harmer two short spells – his first couple of overs starting as early as the 10th over – as he tried everything to engineer a breakthrough. 

Gubbins, just before lunch, was hit on the hand by a rising ball from Neil Wagner that seemed to climb a little more than he expected, but that was an exception in a morning of excellent Middlesex progress.