Middlesex endured another nightmare start as Northamptonshire seamer Ben Sanderson took advantage of their fragile top order on the first morning of this LV= Insurance County Championship clash at Wantage Road.
Sanderson, returning to the side after recovering from knee surgery over the winter, took three wickets for just two runs in his opening burst to leave Middlesex reeling on 11 for four inside 10 overs. It followed two similar top order collapses against Essex at Lord’s last weekend with Middlesex’s batters again displaying their weaknesses against the seaming ball.
Middlesex were indebted once more to Ryan Higgins who came in with the score on 36 for five and hit a vital half-century, helping the Seaxes up to 149 all out, repeating the rescue act he performed against Essex when he also hit 70.
Despite losing two wickets relatively early, Hassan Azad and Luke Procter were fluent in reply for Northamptonshire sharing a fifty partnership to take the score to 81 before Azad was caught behind off Middlesex skipper Toby Roland-Jones for 33. They closed without further loss on 111 for three, 38 behind, with Procter unbeaten on 39.
It was Northamptonshire who made the most of conditions after winning the toss and asking Middlesex to bat.
While batting looked distinctly precarious against the moving ball and a disciplined Northamptonshire attack, several of Middlesex’s batters were guilty of playing loosely outside off stump. Indeed, the first three wickets all fell to catches behind the stumps.
Mark Stoneman was the first to go thanks to an excellent diving catch from keeper Lewis McManus before Sam Robson edged low to first slip. South African international Pieter Malan then became Sanderson’s third victim caught at second slip.
The wickets of Steve Eskinazi and Max Holden, both to particularly adjacent LBW decisions, brought Higgins together with keeper John Simpson. The pair had enjoyed a century stand against Essex and threatened to mount another big partnership here with Simpson locating the boundary for the first time in the innings. The Middlesex keeper dug in, spending more than an hour at the crease before Procter got one to seam back and take the inside edge onto his leg-stump.
Higgins looked increasingly assured, unfurling nine boundaries all around the ground despite losing partners regularly at the other end. When Tom Helm fell to a stunning diving one-handed diving return catch by Chris Tremain, the end of the Middlesex innings looked nigh at 110 for nine. Ethan Bamber though kept Higgins company to frustrate Northamptonshire’s bowlers with a last-wicket stand of 39 before Higgins became Tremain’s third victim of the innings.
Northamptonshire lost opener Ricardo Vasconcelos early in their innings caught fourth slip off Bamber while Sam Whiteman will consider himself unlucky to be adjudged LBW to Higgins. That left the way clear for Azad and Procter to build a partnership and settle nerves in the home dressing room.
Middlesex’s bowlers though stuck at their task with a probing line which kept Northamptonshire honest. Once Azad fell the hosts were content to bat steadily and take the score into three figures with Procter and in-form Rob Keogh unbeaten at the close.