1. Home
  2. /

  3. /

    The return of the Dukes has been a significant boost to Middlesex, with Higgins playing a pivotal role
The return of the Dukes has been a significant boost to Middlesex, with Higgins playing a pivotal role
Ethan Bamber is congratulated by Jack Davies on the wicket of Harry Brook. Source: Getty Images

The return of the Dukes has been a significant boost to Middlesex, with Higgins playing a pivotal role

From 1306 runs for 15 wickets across four days to 243 for 12 in just 55.4 overs, a difference of 182 runs in just two weeks. The narrative will undoubtedly play out as such. The Dukes' return at Lord's brought with it a much brighter day for Middlesex's bowlers, despite clouds obstructing the sun throughout. The team's performance in the first two games of the season was not as strong as it could have been.

The team's bowling performance improved significantly in the third game, with the team taking 243 runs in just 55.4 overs. This is almost double the number of wickets taken in the first two games combined.

The bad weather across the first two rounds of the County Championship makes it difficult to assess the overall impact of the Kookaburra ball. As many as seven of the nine matches in the second round were progressing well before rain prevented the final days from reaching a conclusion.

Toby Roland-Jones' assessment that the cricket had been "turgid" was accurate, even if his experiences this month have been particularly extreme. The opening run-fest at home to Glamorgan before Middlesex's trip away to Northamptonshire – where 552 for 6 declared played 553 for 2 – indicated the need for firmer pitches to accompany the less bowler-friendly ball for a fairer fight.

It is interesting to note that the Kookaburra ball would have performed better on this Lord's surface, particularly at the top of the slope in front of the away dressing room. This is in contrast to the performance at the bottom of the square, where Sam Northeast and, latterly, Ryan Higgins, achieved a high score. A bouncier track offers more opportunities for any seam, regardless of which hemisphere it was stitched.

It is to be expected that this wicket-filled day will be subject to criticism. Had it not been for the rain, which took out 31 overs, there would undoubtedly have been more dismissals, particularly given the movement under lights for Yorkshire. Higgins, the most medium of the medium pacers, emerged with 4 for 31, with wicketkeeper Jack Davies standing up for most of his six overs.

At the same time, Yorkshire were relatively comfortable at 75 for 2. Roland-Jones had accounted for the openers Adam Lyth and Finlay Bean, both left-handers undone by movement up the slope for lbw and bowled, respectively. Shan Masood and Joe Root were at the crease, with Harry Brook padded up. This presented an opportunity for the batting line-up to take the innings in a different direction. All three were dismissed in the space of 29 deliveries.

Root's decision to play a firm shot to a delivery that could have been left alone or played with a more angled bat face resulted in an edge being skewed to Higgins at gully. This wicket, taken by Helm, was the first of the season for him and, finally, an average, even if it is 256.

Brook went next, driving at a delivery from Bamber that held its line, caught by Leus du Plooy at a wide second slip. Masood then fell leg before wicket as Bamber forced one up the slope from around the wicket.

In a matter of moments, Yorkshire were 87 for 5, with George Hill and Jonny Tattersall in a difficult position. If du Plooy had held onto an edge from Hill, which was found by Higgins, the score would have been 91 for 6.

Higgins' disappointment was short-lived, as he successfully completed two catches in three attempts at the start of his next over. Tattersall and Jordan Thompson were both successfully caught out in front of the stumps, as it appeared they had walked before the umpire confirmed the vociferous appeals around them.

A 33-run stand off 25 deliveries between Hill and Ben Coad - third highest scorer with 24 - added some respectability to the scorecard. So did some intent from Dan Moriarty to take Yorkshire past 150. And with a decent chunk of cricket left to play, there was some redemption to be had in the field.

Sadly, what could have been nearly a session's worth of overs ended up being 18, with a final shower before poor light brought the end. Thompson's pinpoint delivery to the top of Nathan Fernandes' off stump - through a gap between the left-hander's bat and pad - was followed by arguably the ball of the day from Mickey Edwards. The lanky Aussie smashed a length from around the wicket that jumped off Max Holden and took an edge to make it 37 for 2.

It was on the last wicket of the day that the final rain delay arrived. Had du Plooy not walked to mid-wicket before being dismissed, Middlesex might have sent in a nightwatchman when play resumed at 6.10pm under overcast skies and bright floodlights.

But du Plooy remained, unbeaten on 23. His footwork to drive Edwards off his length - crisply through cover, then streaking through backward point - was an engagingly proactive approach to survival. Mark Stoneman, too, was not afraid to drive, though he was almost run out on 15 when he was dismissed for a single into the covers that came back with interest but just missed the stumps at the striker's end.

Although Middlesex are in a commanding position, the fact that we have a Dukes in play gives a sense that things could still go back in Yorkshire's favour. Such is the beauty of this darker, more volatile ball. And for all the merits of the debate about whether its use in county cricket is conducive to a successful England Test team, it is not one that these two teams, desperate to get out of Division Two, seem too concerned about at the moment.

Get the latest news to your inbox.

Subscribe to the newsletter

We value your privacy and promise not to distribute your email to third parties.