Kent 186 (Compton 52, Murtagh 4-40, Bamber 4-42) and 40 for 2 (Murtagh 2-9) trail Middlesex 229 (Higgins 71, Agar 4-60) by 3 runs
Sometimes, you can measure the importance of a fixture by the quality of play. It’s not always a direct correlation.
There’s a lot on this one here at Lord’s between Middlesex and Kent, not least because these relegation candidates only play each other once this season. Taking points off each other, perhaps even landing a couple of psychological blows, is all the more important. As 16 wickets fell on day two, it was clear these historic counties have simply resorted to clawing clumps out of each other.
And because of that, it has been a lot of fun. Red-ball fast food for the soul, packed full of the bad stuff that’s actually good as you’re taking it all in. Regarding the bare facts: Middlesex are in the better spot for now, though not by much. They will go into the weekend with a lead of just three but with two of Kent’s second-innings wickets.
Those final flourishes with the bat were vital for Middlesex. And to be fair, “flourishes” probably undersells it. They were 90 for 6 when Hogan got one to pitch leg and seam to off from over the wicket to catch John Simpson’s edge through to Sam Billings. That brought an end to what at the time was the longest and most productive stand – 10.3 overs, 28 runs – which came in response to yet another top-order collapse from Middlesex. This one was 25 for 4, coming after a fifth-gear start from Mark Stoneman and Sam Robson, who raced to 22 after the first two overs.
It was broadly reminiscent of the fightback from Kent, 92 for 6 themselves before they re-emerged on Friday morning on 113 for 6. They managed 73 more, albeit from a source other than Compton, who arrived locked in on 38 not out.
Having been the lone survivor from the top order, one expected much of the same perseverance. But when he was bounced out by Bamber, one of the friendliest bowlers on the circuit (for disposition; his manipulation of the Dukes borders on cruel), Stewart decided to take a short-cut to a respectable score on this surface via the smaller boundary.
Unlike Higgins, Stewart didn’t quite have the support at the other end but he bettered him for power by hitting the top of the Allen Stand rather than just clearing the rope, as Higgins did when just evading Crawley at deep square leg. A 10th first-class fifty for Stewart looked certain, even when he skied Higgins over the wicketkeeper. Tom Helm, however, charged in and took a spectacular tumbling catch – the kind that makes you wince and check he’s okay before applauding – to clip his and Kent’s wings.
That Crawley was dismissed as quickly as he was felt an inevitability, not only given the scrappiness of this match but the fact it means he has followed up last week’s 170 with 11 and 0. Streaky is as streaky does, but the delivery from Murtagh – lifting much higher than usual after urging the bat to come forward – was worthy of a dismissal regardless of batter.
What bodes well for Kent is how seamlessly Jack Leaning ticked over on 19. His approach to the hat-trick ball was brave, advancing down the track to ensure he was not caught on the crease, offering a full face and keeping out Murtagh. He applied that clear head throughout. Compton, of course, quickly reacquainted with the grind and, together, they worked through to the bad light call that came after 17 overs with a degree of comfort, bar the odd vociferous appeal.
This match could well be done with a day to spare, and the best you can say of what we’ve seen so far is it’s hard to say who will end up on top.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo
Source: ESPN Crickinfo