Cricket: Northants build steadily against Middlesex
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The opening day of the 2019 season was the type of day that has eluded Northamptonshire for many years as they steadily built a score in testing conditions against a good Middlesex attack.
Having been sent in, the host made 310-6, led by half-centuires from Alex Wakely and Adam Rossington, to just about edge the honours.
Many times did a high class seam attack of Tim Murtagh, who took the first four wickets to fall, James Harris and England internationals Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones beat the bat, but Northants bided their time on a fairly slow wicket and grew several useful partnerships.
The most profitable was the 99 added by Wakely and Keogh that occupied 28.2 overs of the afternoon and set up Northants’ day.
Wakely, Northants leading runscorer in 2018, struck seven fours in going past fifty in 102 balls en route to 76 and Keogh compiled a smart 46.
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The pair fell either side of tea – Wakely slashing Murtagh to first slip and Keogh driving Finn to second – loose strokes both, proving old habits – that had been well resisted throughout the day - die hard.
From a solid 182-4, Adam Rossington – after two failures against Durham MCCU last week – made a bright 67, including pulling Roland-Jones over midwicket for six and flicking the same bowler to Max Holden on the fence, only for the fielder to stumble over the boundary.
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Most of Rossington’s runs came after tea – a time when Northants had folded last season. But here, a sixth-wicket stand of 67 – ended when Rossington was bowled by a relieved Roland-Jones – ensured the initiative would not be surrendered.
Jason Holder was the other half of the stand. He walked out to cheers and a wonderful sense of excitement that a genuine star of the world game was gracing county cricket.
Crunching his second ball through point for four only raised the level of anticipation. He took his new county to the close unbeaten on 36.
Middlesex know enough about the competitiveness of Division Two after their struggle last season and were given an immediate reminder that promotion will be hard-earned.
They could consider themselves a little unlucky with the amount of times they beat the bat but Finn proved expensive – going at over four-an-over – and seven no-balls were delivered as they missed one golden chance when Stevie Eskinazi dropped Wakely on 41.
As has been the case for many years, Middlesex were led by Murtagh, now in his 20th season of first-class cricket.
He trapped Rob Newton lbw for seven, had Ricardo Vasconcelos caught behind for 38 just before lunch, Josh Cobb caught at mid-on for nine after the internal, before breaking the biggest partnership of the day with Wakely’s wicket.
But his wait for a 31st career five-wicket haul will have to wait at least one more day.
Murtagh said: “I think it’s a pretty good wicket for the first week of April. We had to work hard, we weren’t quite at our best but it could have gone differently – we dropped a catch and beat the bat quite a lot.
“We’ve got two guys who haven’t played a lot in the last 18 months, so for them to get through 20-plus overs is quite a lot.
“We’ll all be better for the miles in our legs but we know what we need to do better.”