Bottom-of-the-table Northants already face an uphill battle to avoid an eighth defeat of a troubled LV= County Championship Division One season after slipping to 89/3 at Lord’s in reply to a Middlesex first innings total of 488/9 declared that was built around Dawid Malan’s unbeaten 154.
Malan, on 72 overnight, batted for almost six and a half hours and faced 258 balls. He spent 26 balls edging his way through the 90’s – understandably so given that he had twice been out in the 90s earlier this season – and was content to be the support act in an important sixth wicket stand of 128 with John Simpson, who played fluently for his 67.
Tim Murtagh struck with the last ball of his second over to have James Middlebrook caught behind for a duck and put Northants immediately up against it with the bat.
Toby Roland-Jones, replacing Steven Finn at the Pavilion End, saw Stephen Peters spar at his fourth ball and thick-edge to second slip on 18, while Finn enjoyed his first success with his second ball back when he was switched to the Nursery End and Matthew Spriegel (9) chopped a short ball into his stumps.
James Kettleborough, a 21-year-old playing only his second first-class match, batted well to reach 42 not out and keep Northants afloat in the 26 overs possible before rain arrived to lop the last 16 overs from the day. Rob Newton is with him on 18 not out, but Middlesex will fancy their chances of pushing in the second half of this match for a fifth victory of the season.
Resuming on 280/3, Middlesex lost Neil Dexter for 20 to the eighth ball of the day, leg-before to Muhammad Azhar Ullah who, with Steven Crook, bowled well with a second new ball that was immediately available.
Joe Denly survived a big appeal for a catch at the wicket off Azhar Ullah on 14 before, on 17, driving Crook to mid-off, where Maurice Chambers dived forward to scoop up a good catch.
At 308/5, Middlesex were in danger of wasting the hard work of their top three, but Malan and Simpson responded with a determined stand. Malan, in particular, resisted the temptation to go after anything slightly wide and, as a result, scored only 24 runs in the morning session as Middlesex reached 364/5 at lunch.
Malan might have been caught on 96 from the last ball before the interval when he hit Crook straight at short leg and saw the ball rebound up but away from any other close fielder, and he reached his first championship hundred since 2012 soon after lunch. Andrew Hall offered him a juicy leg stump half volley and he gratefully stroked it to the mid-wicket ropes for his sixteenth four.
In all, Malan hit a six and 19 fours while there were nine fours and a six from Simpson’s bat before he perished attempting to pull Spriegel’s off spin and being trapped lbw.
Roland-Jones and Finn contributed a few tail end blows before being caught in the deep swinging Spriegel and Middlebrook respectively, to leg while Murtagh aimed a violent blow at his very first ball, from Spriegel, and was bowled.
Malan, by then, had gone past his previous championship-best, 143 against Derbyshire at Lord’s in 2011, but when the declaration came he was still two runs short of his first-class career-best, an innings of 156 not out against Cambridge MCCU last year.