Luck is a fickle mistress. With winning momentum behind you, it will often go your way. If, on the other hand, like Middlesex, you really need a break after losing your marquee international signing to injury before he even stepped on a plane and then suffering consecutive defeats on your return to Division One of the Championship, the luck you find has a nasty habit of being bad.
Rarely will you find two moments to better epitomise this than those which occurred on Day One of Middlesex Vs Notts at Lords. In each case England’s Ben Duckett, a man looking to reinforce his England opener credentials was the grateful recipient of the good end of the deal and Middlesex the bad.
Having bolstered their misfiring batting line up with the addition of Martin Andersson, a batting all-rounder, Middlesex elected to bowl against England’s current opener Duckett alongside Haseeb Hameed, another who has far from given up on his England career. An eyebrow raising decision possibly given the weather forecast suggesting the best of the sunshine would grace Lords on the first day, but one that would have most likely been vindicated were it not for the first slice of luck. Very good luck as it turned out for Duckett who, yet to score, edged the third ball of Ethan Bamber’s second over, only for John Simpson and Steve Eskinazi to remain motionless, each with the conviction that the other would pouch the chance. The ball duly flew untroubled through the narrowest of gaps between the two.
Duckett would go on to demonstrate all the rounded, more mature qualities that have earned him that England spot. Purposeful and measured, there were still plenty of sweeps and flashing drives to admire in his 177 off 258 balls. A superb effort and the foundation of a Notts’ 364 total. Without it, that Middlesex decision would have looked a very reasonable one and would still have, were it not for Duckett’s second slice of luck.
I suspect Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiments in quantum mechanics were not top of mind for Ben Duckett, Ben Slater or Toby Roland Jones as the latter flung out an arm attempting the sharpest of caught and bowled chances that would have seen the end of Duckett for 70. In the manner that Schrödinger’s famous hypothetical cat contrived to be both alive and dead, Roland Jones and Middlesex managed to simultaneously be both lucky and unlucky. The chance to dismiss Duckett was missed as Roland Jones didn’t quite get enough hand on the return catch, but it did deflect the ball on to the stumps of the bewildered non striker Slater who was well out of his ground. Lucky of course for Middlesex, but hindsight proved that grabbing the Duckett chance would have been far more crucial and so ultimately bad luck on that missed catch. Such is life when things are not going your way.
Middlesex to their credit stuck to their task and rarely made batting easy. Tim Murtagh’s shoes are big one to fill, particularly opening from the Nursery End, but Ethan Bamber was excellent value for his four wickets. Ryan Higgins has as much heart as hair and since his return to Middlesex he has been excellent in the toughest of spots, whether chasing promotion or battling at the foot of Division One. His two in two to close out the Notts innings, including Duckett well caught by Andersson, was no more than he deserved and Toby Roland Jones will always be a handful with a red ball at any level, fitness permitting and so he proved again.
Given the track record of the Middlesex top order so far, many of their fans will have had hearts in mouths for every ball of their reply, particularly late in the day and with Stuart Broad wielding the new ball at their former England opening pair. However, Mark Stoneman, if not Bazballing, was splendidly positive in reaching 60 not out at the close. Sam Robson took 19 balls to get going but gritted his way to 17 before falling lbw to Lyndon James. Pieter Malan, whose season to date has been the stuff of nightmares also showed heart, but was undone by a Broad inswinger to close the day, but by this season’s standards, 111 for 2 are riches indeed for Middlesex.
Half way through, the game is now well poised and if the only way to turn around a tough spell is to guts it out, then Middlesex showed plenty of gravel and guts with bat and ball. More of the same is needed on day 3 for them, but Notts will feel they are just a wicket or two away from regaining dominance. Weather permitting