A strong effort by Northamptonshire’s bowlers saw Middlesex only take a slender first innings lead, which Emilio Gay and Sam Whiteman reduced to just three by the close on Day 2.
Higgins, in his second spell with the tenants of Lord’s, made 64 not out, his sixth half-century of the season to steer the hosts from the perils of 127/5 to only their second batting bonus point of the campaign and a total of 277 – a first innings lead of 58. Mark Stoneman was Middlesex’s other half-centurion with 51 while Max Holden made 41. Rob Keogh impressed with his off-spin for Northamptonshire, returning three for 53, while Ben Sanderson took three for 76.
Not content with his batting efforts, Harare-born Higgins then removed both Ricardo Vasconcelos and Justin Broad when Northamptonshire batted again, the visitors almost achieving parity by the close on 55/2.
While Northamptonshire relied on stoic defence for their score on day one, Middlesex adopted more of a risk and reward approach, playing more shots, rotating the strike and wherever possible turning ones into twos to put pressure on the fielders. In the end it brought some reward, though on a pitch of already variable bounce it remains to be seen whether a 58-run lead will be sufficient for a side who have to bat last.
Stoneman signalled Middlesex’s more aggressive intent with two fours from one Jack White over before striking the seamer back over his head for six.
Nightwatchman Bamber kept Stoneman company through the first seven overs, taking a little more of the shine off the Kookaburra ball before Sanderson uprooted his middle stump.
It would be the visitors’ last success for some time as Stoneman and fellow former England opener Sam Robson forged a half century stand at not far shy of a run a ball. Stoneman twice cut Sanderson to the fence at point while Robson found the cover boundary twice with drives.
However, the right-handed Robson, like many in the match before him, never looked set and it was no surprise when White found the edge of his bat to give wicketkeeper McManus the first of his four victims behind the stumps.
Stoneman became the first batter in the match to reach 50 only to fall in White’s next over when a shortish ball didn’t get up high enough for his attempted pull shot and instead picked out the left-hander’s leg stump. And when Pieter Malan and John Simpson departed to Sanderson and Tom Taylor respectively either side of the lunch interval Middlesex looked set for the batting equivalent of ‘Groundhog Day.’
It was now Higgins made his entrance, promptly pulling his first ball through square leg for four, but thereafter it was Max Holden who made the running in their stand of 64, cutting and driving the seamers before greeting spinner Keogh with a reverse sweep for another boundary. Again though, just as the former England U19 skipper appeared set, Keogh got one through his defences to trap him on the crease.
Josh De Caires didn’t stay long and when Stephen Eskinazi batting at nine because of the finger injury sustained on day one edged into the hands of Gay in the gully Middlesex’s lead was a mere 11.
Higgins though went through to a controlled 50 from 85 balls with six fours and with the help of skipper Roland-Jones steered the hosts to that second batting point of the campaign, a landmark greeted with loud, if a little ironic applause from the Middlesex faithful.
The eventual lead of 58 while not massive looked useful and Higgins struck in his first over to cut short a blossoming Ricardo Vasconcelos effort on 22.
Broad soon followed when he edged through to Simpson, who was standing up to the stumps to stop the batter batting out of his crease to negate the prospect of being leg before.