Pujara peerless as Simpson follows “curse of the ex” script on Lords return

It’s sometimes an irresistible temptation to bowl first at Lords. For Day One of the clash between table toppers Sussex and Middlesex, the ground has been recently deluged, there was plenty of cloud cover and perhaps the merest hint of green on the wicket, although only the keenest of eyes would spot it.  Meanwhile, even though this is the 7th round of County Championship matches, we are still a week from the end of May. June being the time when conditions are said to ease for batters.

And yet. Lords has tended to not follow that trend of late. Toby Roland-Jones has had luck on his side with coin tosses so far this season, winning 5 from 6 before today and has elected to field on each occasion. In early April Sam Northeast set a Lords batting record as Glamorgan piled on 630. The following week, at Northants, the home side cruised past 550 having been the recipient of Toby’s largess. In Toby’s defence, both games were drawn and anything the pitches may have offered bowlers was negated by the use of the cuddly Kookaburra rather than the devilish Dukes. By the time Yorkshire’s star- studded batting line up arrived at Lords  and had to bat first, they faced an entirely different proposition and were duly rolled for 159.

Leus Du Plooy follows Roland-Jones trend

Although Roland-Jones was sitting this game out, Leus Du Plooy in his stead made it 6 from 7 with the coin. Sussex found themselves at the crease and quickly set off more in the manner of Glamorgan than of Joe Root, Harry Brook and Yorkshire. For an hour, runs flowed with pleasant ease. No Kookaburra to blame this time. For an hour, the two left-handed Toms, Clark and Haines, were assured and untroubled, motoring Sussex past 50 in rapid time. It was a welcome surprise for Middlesex when Bamber, coming around the wicket from the Nursery End angled one down the slope to bowl Haines who had made 40 of his teams 66. His partner soon followed, nicking behind to Higgins for 32 and thus entered the prolific Pujara. Although having missed the first Kookaburra feeding frenzy of the season, perhaps just a shade less prolific than he may have otherwise have been.

As lunch loomed and a very healthy crowd looked forward to a perambulation on the famous outfield, it seemed as though Pujara and yet another left-handed Tom (Alsop this time) would see Sussex securely to lunch. However, a sharp rising ball from Henry Brooks and a quite brilliant low catch by Ryan Higgins low to his left at third slip saw the end of the third left hander and with that the morning session.

The first hour after lunch was an exact replica of the morning’s opening, seeing Pujara and new man James Coles progress with ease. With the hour up, however, Coles pushed at one that moved down the hill just enough and Davies took a fine diving catch behind.

Former hero’s welcome return

And so, came the moment that some sensed could be pivotal in this match and possibly even the direction of the Second Division Championship. For 15 years, John Simpson had dedicated himself to the Middlesex cause. A vital part of the 2016 Championship success and innumerable times a saviour in all formats when Middlesex wickets had tumbled. Once more he trotted down the Lord’s Pavilion steps to warm and welcoming applause. This time however, bent on damaging rather than rescuing his former team.

Peter Handscomb, has already exercised ‘the curse of the ex’ upon Middlesex this season with a ton for Leicestershire. Would ‘Simmo’, partnered with the sheer class of Pujara, do the same? Few Middlesex, or indeed Sussex, supporters would likely bet against it and they proved a powerful pairing. The peerless Pujara glided serenely past 50 and Simpson was clearly bent upon placing the highest price on his wicket. At 212/4, tea will have been sweeter for Sussex than the hosts.

Middlesex will have hoped that the interval might just have created a break in the Sussex pair’s concentration. It almost did too, Simpson pulling a Hollman full bunger down deep mid wicket’s throat. Alas for Hollman and Middlesex, a no ball was correctly called to reprieve their old boy.

On and on went Pujara and Simpson. The latter’s 50 coinciding nicely the pair’s hundred partnership, although by this stage the warmth of the applause was tempered with some frustration for the home crowd. The former hero was dropped just once, Hollman spilling a tough chance at gulley, but offered nothing else.

By the close Sussex will have been much the happier on 295 for 4, Pujara in the 90s and Simpson steady at 71.  The script, one senses, for Middlesex fans of a more fatalistic disposition had been followed to the letter. However, they will also know that early morning wickets could yet shift the balance back in their sides favour.

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