Labuschagne and summer sun return, but Middlesex put Glamorgan in the shade

Marnus Labuschagne has not lifted a bat in anger since a fairly modest performance in Australia’s March/April two Test series in New Zealand. Australia won both, but barring his 90 at the Hagley Oval, scores of 1, 2 and 6 were far from prime eccentric yet effective Labuschagne. Indeed, returns in the preceding home series against West Indies had been thin and a brief one match dip back into the Sheffield Shield for Queensland did not see him past 50.

He will certainly have the opportunity to make an impact in Wales given that he does not feature in the Australian WT20 squad and his country’s next ODI will be in England in September as the English domestic summer concludes.

So, would  a return to Wales to reunite with his Glamorgan colleagues reignite confidence and form? Having been put in to open with partner Eddie Byrom, the first forty minutes here suggested not only that settling back into the welcome embrace of his adopted county would be just the tonic, but also that Toby Roland-Jones may have seen demons in the wicket that just weren’t there. Labuschagne and Byrom looked untroubled cruising serenely towards an opening 50 stand. Perhaps the horrors of Lords in April briefly surfaced in the mind of Roland-Jones, despite having a Dukes ball rather than Kookaburra in hand here.  On that occasion, having been asked to bat, Glamorgan marched inexorably to 620 for 3, with Sam Northeast’s 335* taking him to the highest ever first-class total at Lords, before declaring.

Labuschagne falls as sun shines

Here in Wales though, under warm sunshine and high clouds, the game shifted gear dramatically in the 12th over. Labuschagne drove loosely at Helm and was caught behind for 23. He was soon followed by Byrom in a similar manner, this time to Ryan Higgins and although no further wickets fell before lunch, with Glamorgan on 72 for 2.  Middlesex’s disciplined bowling ensured a low speed of scoring at Sofia Gardens very much in line with universal 20 miles an hour across the rest of Wales.

After lunch, it was the Middlesex attack that powered through the gears. Bamber struck again when Carlson cut to Higgins at backward point, before Tom Helm claimed both Northeast and Chris Cooke in the same devastating over. The free scoring Northeast bowled through the gate to one that angled in and removed his off- stump and then Chris Cooke shouldering arms to see that recently replaced off stump pegged back. If there are two kinds of leave, then this was very much the wrong kind. From 44 without loss, Glamorgan had fallen to 92 for 5 and worse was to follow for them.

Colin Ingram was Glamorgan’s other centurion at Lords, his 132* a sizable chunk of a 299 unbeaten partnership with Northeast. Today though he had made just 10 before dragging an inside edge onto his stumps off the relentlessly probing Bamber. James Harris failed to show any resistance against his old county, bowled by Roland Jones for 5 and with seven down for 103, it seemed the end would come quickly. Zain Ul Hassan and Mason Crane did show commendable resistance with a fighting 48 partnership before Ul Hassan’s reverse sweep to Luke Hollman was brilliantly held at slip by Leus du Ploy. Mason Crane fought on and ultimately saw his team to 183 having lost his two partners Andy Gorvin and Jamie McIlroy after tea. Gorvin skyed a short ball from Helm to Roland Jones at mid-wicket and McIlroy was bowled by Luke Hollman for 0.

Middlesex bowlers pile on pressure

After such a smooth start by the hosts, this was a superb effort from Middlesex. Helm’s 4 for 44 showed the penetration that had put him in the England frame in the past. Hollman’s 2 wickets for just 17 from his near 11 overs will have delighted fans of leg spin bowling everywhere except Wales, whilst Bamber, Roland-Jones and Higgins ensured the pressure on Glamorgan never let up.

Having achieved the objective on of removing their hosts, including the ever dangerous and prolific Sam Northeast and Marnus Labuschagne for under 200, Middlesex still had to face a potentially challenging twenty- one overs. Glamorgan were gunning for at least two and ideally three or four wickets before the close, but Harris, McIlroy, Gorvin and Mason Crane found openers Sam Robson and Mark Stoneman in positive yet resolute form. Together, with they steered Middlesex to 62 without loss at the close.

For Middlesex a near perfect day. Glamorgan know they will need to strike early and often in the morning. The Welsh sun shone brightly encouraging some spectators to bare torsos, one or two of which, it must be said, would have been better staying under cover. It was the Glamorgan batting that was also laid bare by a fine Middlesex effort. They will hope that tomorrow the sun continues to shine on both the crowd and their batting.