Opener Emilio Gay struck a stylish, commanding 165 not out, the fifth first-class century of his career, as Northamptonshire took full advantage of being put into bat against Middlesex. The hosts finished in a dominant position on 311 for three on day one of this Vitality County Championship match at Wantage Road.

Gay, 24 on Sunday, celebrated his birthday early, striking his highest first-class score off 272 balls with 17 boundaries.

He found a supportive partner in his skipper Luke Procter who hit 73 in a 189-run stand in 65.2 overs, eclipsing Northamptonshire’s previous highest second-wicket partnership against Middlesex (179) set by Stephen Peters and Alex Wakely in 2010.

Middlesex’s bowlers, who were punished after inserting Glamorgan at Lord’s last week, must have had a sense of déjà vu but stuck diligently to their task on a largely docile wicket, deploying the short ball as the day wore on in a bid to make inroads with the Kookaburra ball.

They had cause to celebrate themselves when Ryan Higgins removed opener Jason Broad lbw in the second over of the day. But the next breakthrough would not come until after tea as Procter and Gay took control.

Once Procter fell to spinner Josh de Caires, Gay shared an 86-run stand with Karun Nair (41) before the Indian batter played on to a delivery that jagged back from Toby Roland-Jones.

The day was also memorable in that Northamptonshire secured their first home batting points of 2024 – a feat they did not achieve until 26 September last year.

Procter picked up where he left off after making 92 against Sussex. He was solid in defence, but played some crisp attacking shots during the morning, driving opposite number Roland-Jones down the ground and striking Tom Helm through square for four.

Gay at times looked vulnerable outside off-stump early on, playing and missing against the seamers when they found some movement. But he grew in fluency, playing some attractive clips off his legs, taking on the short ball, and driving firmly down the ground. A highlight of the morning session was a classy drive for four through the covers off Helm.

The pair had taken Northamptonshire to 106 for one at lunch and it appeared as if they would continue scoring at the same pace after the break as Gay pulled Helm disdainfully through midwicket.

Scoring slowed significantly though, with just 24 runs coming in the first hour of the afternoon. Procter grew becalmed in the forties, eventually posting his half-century off 126 balls.

As Middlesex banged the ball in short, Roland-Jones struck Procter under the armpit, but otherwise the Northamptonshire captain was largely happy to duck out of the way. Gay took a more attacking approach, his pull shots were mostly well controlled, although at times he kept the leg-side fielders interested.

The scoring rate increased as tea approached, Procter taking full advantage of a full toss from de Caires, smiting it over midwicket for the first six of the innings.

Gay then reached three figures in style by rocking back and slashing Higgins through point for his ninth boundary.

After the interval, Procter put another de Caires full toss away to the ropes, but when he attacked the spinner’s next over, he could only pick out Helm at mid on to leave Northamptonshire on 190 for two. He had faced 194 balls and hit six fours and one six.

Karun Nair cut de Caires behind square for four but was troubled by a couple of well-directed short balls from Helm, fending one away which fell safely between a group of advancing close catchers. But he found the sweep and reverse sweep profitable as he took consecutive boundaries off de Caires and soon settled into the groove.

Gay meanwhile continued on his way, backing away to slice Helm through the covers and using his feet to de Caires to drive him through the same area.

With Northamptonshire approaching 250, Middlesex took the new ball. Ethan Bamber and Roland-Jones found helpful movement off the seam, but Gay looked untroubled, playing an exquisite shot off his legs and a glorious cover drive shortly before stumps.