Twenty-six wickets in a day on a wicket greener than most could remember at Lord's: welcome, Middlesex, to Division Two of the County Championship.
This is how the cricket is played in the lower tier - on result pitches where teams are prepared to lose for the chance of victory. It served Nottinghamshire well last season, Northamptonshire too, whose nine wins trumped Nott's tally and still wasn't good enough for promotion. Middlesex are looking to prove Division Two is an alien land and after a whirlwind day they are now set to begin a season of recovery with victory.
But a helpful pitch still requires bowlers of skill and craft and Tim Murtagh has been providing those credentials for 18 years. Here, he passed 700 first-class wickets when he clipped Josh Cobb's off bail, taking 4 for 27 as Middlesex humiliated Northants in 21.2 overs of their first-innings. But it was another example of how Middlesex look out of place in the second tier that dominated the day.
An impressive XI can be compiled of Middlesex players not available for this match but the depth of talent Middlesex posses is perhaps the biggest difference between themselves and other Division Two counties.
Such is their depth that at the beginning of 2017, James Harris - who arrived from Glamorgan under much fanfare in 2013 - was allowed to join Kent on loan: a four-match sojourn that yielded 19 wickets at 21. He was back by the middle of the year and has begun 2018 with what should turn out to be a match-winning performance.
After Middlesex began the day 136 for 4, they quickly lost both Paul Stirling and John Simpson who had shared a fifty-partnership on the first afternoon. Harris provided a punchy unbeaten 46 with the tail to steer his side to 214 and a score that appeared overpar. A thought confirmed as Harris replaced Toby Roland-Jones at the Pavilion End. His first three deliveries barely made the cut strip outside the off stump but the third came back down the slope to remove Richard Levi's off stump and Harris was underway. He needed only 32 balls to take 5 for 9.
Harris and Murtagh reduced Northants to 41 for 8 and in danger of falling short of their lowest total against Middlesex of 58. That Brett Hutton, having taken 5 for 54 on his Northants debut earlier in the day, saved the visitors from such ignominy was no consolation as a 143-run first-innings deficit was conceded.
With only two days of outdoor practise behind them in pre-season because of the appalling weather, Northants could claim mitigating circumstances. A pre-season tour of Barbados weakened the argument - however different the conditions. There was also little to excuse a series of missed chances - the most crucial John Simpson being dropped on three in the first-innings that would have seen Middlesex 67 for 5 and Harris spilt on 10.
Middlesex conceded that to play conservatively was inviting trouble. As such, Max Holden unleashed a series of viscous cut strokes to the Mound Stand to rattle Middlesex to 54 for 1 in their second innings with a run-a-ball 33. But trying to force Doug Bracewell through cover, he edged behind and the game began to turn.
Bracewell had changed to the Nursery End and oversaw a collapse of 4 for 3 in 23 balls to bring Northants back into the game. And at 112 for 9, the lead 255, they held some hope. But Murtagh swung his way to 31 in just 20 balls - including a six into the Tavern Stand - and Tom Helm, buoyed by his partner's hitting, discovered his own taste for putting bat to ball with three further boundaries.
The 10th wicket pair added 47 in 32 balls and with the target set at 303 and the pitch unlikely to ease, Middlesex should begin life back in Division Two with victory on day three
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