Half-centuries from Middlesex’s top three engineered a commanding position for the Championship leaders against Lancashire at Emirates Old Trafford. Having been surprisingly invited to bat first by Lancashire captain Steven Croft, they reached 258 for three, increasing their lead over Yorkshire from one to three points.
Under low clouds, Sam Robson and Nick Gubbins negotiated an impressive opening spell from Tom Bailey and Kyle Jarvis, but having played themselves in (both survived big lbw shouts from Jarvis), boundaries began to flow for both batsmen. Gubbins left well but also drove beautifully through the covers and down the ground and was severe whenever Lancashire strayed onto his pads. Shortly before Middlesex reached lunch 93 without loss, he reached an 89-ball half-century.
After a brief delay for a bad light after the break, Gubbins was the first man to fall, as he attempted to pull a short delivery from Jarvis, but - catching the ball high on the bat - could only lob up to midwicket, where Alviro Petersen took a simple catch. Gubbins had made 69, and an opening stand of 123 had finally been broken.
After the departure of Gubbins, Robson played with greater authority, reaching his half-century from 111 balls, and twice pulling Simon Kerrigan to the midwicket fence. All day he had driven well and flicked through midwicket sweetly, but he too fell when looking settled, an edged drive finding first slip off Kerrigan for 77. On 57, a full stretch Jos Buttler had been unable to hold on to a legside flick that eventually found the fence at fine leg.
Nick Compton and Dawid Malan picked up where Middlesex’s openers left off, sharing 97 either side of tea. Compton powerfully pulled his first ball through square-leg for four, but was becalmed thereafter, facing 29 consecutive dot balls. He grew into his innings, picking off Kerrigan with ease - including various flicks through midwicket as well as a swat down the ground for six.
Malan began his innings in fine style, cutting in front and behind square and driving through mid-on, but as conditions became trickier and the light murkier late in the day, he went into his shell, particularly against the new ball.
It was the new ball, and Jarvis, that did for Compton, bowled through the gate for 56 by one that nipped back. Malan, however, was joined by the watchful Stevie Eskinazi to shepherd the leaders to a second batting point and through to the close, which came seven overs early due to bad light. Malan finished the day unbeaten on 49.
While Middlesex named an unchanged team, Lancashire welcomed back Buttler to the Championship side for the first time since these two sides met in September 2014. At lunch, much to his surprise, the opener Haseeb Hameed became the youngest Lancashire player to be awarded his county cap since World War 2, when records began.
A remarkable, topsy-turvy day ended prematurely at Old Trafford with Lancashire’s sixth wicket pair battling to save the follow-on after a sensational opening spell from Toby Roland-Jones had left them 6-4.
In the morning session, Lancashire had taken the last seven Middlesex wickets for 69 to limit the visitors to 327 and, vitally in a tight title race, just three batting points. But Roland-Jones took four wickets in 29 balls, and Tim Murtagh took one to wrestle control back to the Division One leaders.
The pair started with three maidens, then Roland-Jones got one to lift and nip away from Haseeb Hameed, who could only edge to second slip. Luke Procter then drove hard at Murtagh but edged straight to gully, before Roland-Jones struck twice in an over, with Alviro Petersen well caught by John Simpson down the legside and Steven Croft bowled by a full ball.
Jos Buttler, playing his first Championship match since September 2014, came out and looked to counterattack, twice cover-driving beautifully, but soon fell in the same fashion as Petersen, with a leg glance, caught by Simpson, diving one-handed to his left.
From 32-5, Rob Jones and Liam Livingstone looked to rebuild. Jones was cautious, defending plenty, while Livingstone looked to counter-attack, punching Steven Finn down the ground for four. When bad light brought an early tea at 2.50pm, they had shared 25.
By 4.30, when the players left the field due to rain (they did not return), that stand had swelled to 70. Jones had grown into his innings, driving beautifully to reach the highest score of his three-match first-class career, while Livingstone had carted Ollie Rayner for four wide of long-on. Livingstone survived an lbw appeal from Murtagh on 26, but otherwise it was an assured stand, stymying more impressive Middlesex bowling.
Having started the day well set on 258-3, Middlesex had been bowled out for 327 by lunch.
After Dawid Malan completed an 109-ball half-century, Middlesex contrived to lose 3-10 runs in 39 balls. Malan became the fourth member of Middlesex’s top four to reach 50 but not kick on, as he tried to play Tom Bailey too late and chopped on, while Stevie Eskinazi was bowled through the gate by Kyle Jarvis. Simpson was caught at second slip, throwing his hands at a drive off Bailey.
The captain James Franklin was the not out batsman, guiding Middlesex to their third batting point with three balls to spare thanks to a four wide of long-on off Kerrigan, but the left-arm spinner dismissed both Rayner and Roland-Jones. Rayner prodded forward and was caught at slip, while Roland-Jones was bowled playing back.
In the final over before the scheduled break, Croft had Murtagh caught brilliantly at short leg by Rob Jones, diving to his left. The extra 15 minutes were taken and last man Finn was bowled by Kerrigan, who finished with figures of 4-80.
The 20-year-old Lancashire opener carried his bat for a magnificent maiden first-class century, before Simon Kerrigan took three wickets for 16 to hamper Middlesex’s title aspirations at Old Trafford. Middlesex reached stumps on the third day 72 for four, 140 ahead.
Jones, playing just his third Championship match and resuming on 42, became the youngest Lancashire batsman since Cyril Washbrook in 1935 (against Worcestershire at Old Trafford) to carry his bat through a Championship innings. He brought up his century from his 276th ball, with his second six off Ollie Rayner, but the hallmarks of his innings were sound defence and the ability to leave plenty.
Jones’ stand with Liam Livingstone, so vital on Tuesday evening swelled to 106, before Livingstone became the first of Steven Finn’s four wickets, guiding to second slip, the ball after the same stroke had brought up a fine 117-ball half-century.
Jones, who drove beautifully, was joined by Tom Bailey and the pair knuckled down to avert any threat of the follow-on, then earn a first unlikely batting point, and eventually see off the new ball. Bailey had pulled the ball impressively, but drove hard at Finn and was caught at first slip, while Kyle Jarvis could only divert his first ball, a lifting snorter, straight to gully.
Kerrigan received a reprieve when Finn bowled him with a no ball. However, after Jones had brought up his century, Kerrigan was trapped lbw and Toby Lester was bowled by Rayner to bring an end to Lancashire’s first innings, 68 behind. Jones had earned Lancashire two batting points, and orchestrated a remarkable turnaround.
The bowlers picked up where he left off. Nick Gubbins prodded forward to a ball from Kyle Jarvis that left him and was caught by Livingstone at first slip, although Sam Robson looked in good touch immediately with a series of cuts and pulls.
The introduction of Kerrigan proved vital, however, as he dismissed Robson for the second time in the match, lbw trying to pull the first ball of his spell. Nick Compton and Stevie Eskinazi both also fell lbw to become Kerrigan’s sixth and seventh victims, the former playing back and the latter forward.
The left-handers David Malan and John Simpson came together for a trial by spin, digging in with men round the bat, the ball turning and runs never readily available, to guide Middlesex to a lead of 140 at stumps, despite a huge appeal for lbw against Simpson with the last ball of the day, bowled by Livingstone.
A win would take Middlesex 20 points clear of Yorkshire, who are one ahead of Somerset, going into the final round of fixtures, when first plays second at Lord’s. A draw would see Middlesex top by nine, and should they lose, their advantage would be just four points.
Despite briefly flirting with a dart for victory through a Jos Buttler cameo, Lancashire held on for a draw against Middlesex at Old Trafford. As a result, Middlesex lead the County Championship by nine points from Yorkshire, their opponents in the final round. Somerset, who are a point behind Yorkshire, face Nottinghamshire at Taunton.
Resuming on the final day with a lead of 140, David Malan and John Simpson’s stand of 151 provided the backbone of Middlesex’s second innings 259 for eight declared, which set up a chase of 309 from 44 overs.
Malan and Simpson had come together with their side wavering on the third afternoon, but had dug in to reach stumps and it was more of the same against high quality bowling from Simon Kerrigan (who finished with 6-86, and match figures of 10-166) and Kyle Jarvis. Both batsman waited for the bad ball, and made it through the morning session unscathed, recording elegant half-centuries.
Malan, having smacked the Lancashire captain Steven Croft down the ground for six, reached his half-century from 128 balls, with five fours. Simpson, playing busily and repelling impressive turn from Liam Livingstone’s leg-breaks, brought up his own 50 with a cover driven four off Kerrigan, from his 150th ball.
Both fell as Middlesex looked to push on after tea. Malan reached 87 before edging behind trying to cut Kerrigan, while Toby Roland-Jones sliced to point and James Franklin was caught at long-on, also both to Kerrigan. Simpson fell shortly before the declaration arrived, bowled by Luke Procter.
Lancashire opted to promote Buttler, England’s interim ODI captain, to open the batting ahead of Haseeb Hameed. Buttler was immediately into his work, carving his first and third balls (from Steven Finn) for four through the off-side, and unfurling an array of ramps and scoops. After nine balls, he had 24, while his partner Rob Jones - a first innings centurion - was still on 0.
But Buttler tried to flick Finn to leg and was caught by Nick Compton at cover, departing with all 26 Lancashire runs to his name. From there, Jones, 20, and Hameed, 19, dropped anchor and batted out impressively for the draw. There were some dashing strokes, particularly from Jones down the ground to Ollie Rayner, while Hameed nudged and nurdled until Middlesex captain Franklin offered a handshake at 4.30pm. Both batsmen ended with 25 as Lancashire reached 80-1.
Middlesex took 11 points, and Lancashire nine, which takes them to fifth place, 14 points above Hampshire, who are eighth. Lancashire face sixth-placed Warwickshire at Edgbaston from Tuesday.