Robson equals records and stirs selectors

Middlesex 452 (Robson 231, Patel 4-80) and 306 for 6 dec (Robson 106, Voges 92) drew with Warwickshire 468 (Trott 219*, Murtagh 3-68, Finn 3-110)
Scorecard

Sam Robson‘s second century of the match secured a draw for Middlesex and provided another reminder of his skills for the England selectors.

Robson, who followed his first innings of 231 with a second innings of 106, set a new record for the most runs in a first-class game by a Middlesex batsman (overtaking Jack Robertson, who made 331 in one innings against Worcestershire at New Road in 1949, and Paul Weekes who scored 171* and 160 against Somerset at Uxbridge in 2009) and became the first Middlesex played to make centuries in each innings since Neil Dexter, who did so in 2009 against Kent.

The manner in which this match ended – with all 11 members of the Warwickshire side having a bowl and Jonathan Trott keeping wicket – might suggest Robson’s second innings runs were somewhat soft, but it is not so. For the majority of his innings, Warwickshire retained hopes of forcing a win. Had he failed, they may have been successful.

It remains true, though, that batting is a more comfortable business at Lord’s when the sun comes out. On this slow wicket, Warwickshire were unable to gain much lateral movement and what variable bounce there was from the indentations made on the first day was expertly negotiated by Robson.

Robson really isn’t the type to roar “pick me” at the selectors. Either vocally or with his actions. He described this achievement as “nice” and looked slightly embarrassed by the fuss. Instead, he reasoned that he was better off “focussing on scoring runs for Middlesex” and allowing selection to “be a product of that”. Besides, he knows he will be opening the batting in Durham within a few days and what a great leveller this game can be.

But scoring 337 runs in a match tends to catch the eye. And, from a situation a week or so ago where he was some way down the list of those vying for selection, Robson will have forced his name into contention.

It has been some time since there has been so little certainty over the identity of England’s top five in Test cricket and it seems fair to suggest that, alongside Alex Hales, Adam Lyth and Nick Compton, Robson is now a realistic candidate to accompany Alastair Cook to the middle when England play the first Test of the summer at Leeds. It may be relevant that Paul Farbrace, the England assistant coach, was among those at Lord’s to see Robson’s second innings.

“It’s been a special few days,” Robson said afterwards. “I’m very proud. “I’ve played enough cricket to know there aren’t many days like this.”

There has been a sense in recent months – not least from Trevor Bayliss – that England would, in an ideal world, prefer a dynamic opening partner for Alastair Cook. But if they conclude they do not have a player of similar style to David Warner, the likes of Robson and Compton offer an admirably solid alternative. It remains perplexing that, with Cook offering a pretty decent template for the role of opening batsman – he has scored more runs than any Test batsman ever to represent England, after all – that the team management seem to want his opening partner to play in such a different manner.

Robson’s qualities are not so different from Cook’s. He has an apparently insatiable appetite for runs, he has excellent powers of concentration and he knows his limitations and works within them. He was, along with Trott, the only man to bat with comfort against frontline bowlers in the match – both Keith Barker and Adam Voges profited from prolonged spells of support bowling – and showed a solidity on off stump that used to be seen as the hallmark of Test-quality opening batsmen. Tests, particularly those in England in early summer, still require such skills.

With Robson’s innate modesty to the fore, it was left to the two captains in this match to praise his contribution. Ian Bell described him as “a fantastic player” while Adam Voges suggested Robson would “knock the door down” if he maintained such form in the run-up to the first Test. “He’s made history,” Voges said. “That’s one of the best innings I’ve seen from a teammate.”

Warwickshire rarely threatened on the final day. With Barker unable to gain much swing, Rikki Clarke offered the most trouble. He dismissed Compton, falling slightly to the off side as he played across one, with a full delivery and John Simpson missed one from Jeetan Patel but by then the match was all but safe and Warwickshire were reluctant to flog their top bowlers.

While the thought of watching Bell and Trott in tandem was an appetising prospect for Warwickshire supporters ahead of this season, few can have thought they would see them share a new ball spell. By the time Tim Ambrose gave up his wicket-keeping gloves and claimed the first wicket of his 16-year first-class career – Voges caught on the mid-wicket boundary attempting to slog a long-hop somewhere towards Baker Street – this game was begging to be put out of its misery. Middlesex took 12 points; Warwickshire 11.

Warwickshire leave with spirits boosted, however. Not only can they take renewed confidence in the presence of Trott in their side – he briefly captained the side on the final day and will stand in officially if Bell and the vice-captain Chris Woakes are absent – but they believe both Boyd Rankin and Chris Woakes will have recovered sufficiently to be available for their next game, the Championship match against Yorkshire starting at Edgbaston on Sunday.

Middlesex, meanwhile, know they must wrestle with their team selection before their game in Durham. The presence of four seamers – two of whom have unusually long run-ups – puts them under pressure as regards over-rates at all times and may, arguably have cost them a chance to win this game.

The spell of 60-minutes when they utilised part-time bowlers on day three released the last bit of pressure they had exerted on Warwickshire. The position of James Franklin, a fifth seamer and No. 7 batsman, looks most precarious.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.


Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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