Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes opened with a maiden over and took two wickets in his first action since England’s ICC World Twenty20 final defeat, but Middlesex’s top seven all made starts as they reached 358 for seven at Emirates Riverside.
Led by a composed 74 from Dawid Malan, Middlesex’s top order all passed 25 on the first day of their Specsavers County Championship Division One match against Durham.
In his first appearance since conceding four consecutive sixes to Carlos Brathwaite as West Indies beat England in the World T20 final, Stokes took 2-66 and was one of five Durham bowlers to strike.
Graham Onions was the only other to manage a second, pinning John Simpson lbw with the first delivery with the new ball, before Stokes struck in the day’s final over when he had James Harris trapped lbw for eight.
With the ball reluctant to swing in temperatures barely above freezing, there was also little help on a placid pitch and it was no surprise that Middlesex opted for a toss and chose to bat upon winning it.
Every batsman looked comfortable, but at least three were complicit in their own downfall, the notable exception being Sam Robson.
After hitting the previous two balls for four, Robson – who made a double-century and a ton against Warwickshire last week – had his off and middle stumps splattered by a ball from Brydon Carse which might have done him for pace on 26.
The South Africa-born paceman also gave Nick Compton some early discomfort but leaked runs at almost seven an over.
This created a problem for Paul Collingwood, who relied on off-spinner Ryan Pringle to keep an end going in the afternoon. He bowled 15 tidy overs before he started to drop short in his last three before tea, when Adam Voges hit him for five fours.
The Middlesex skipper was the third to reach fifty after Malan and left-handed opener Nick Gubbins, who cut and pulled Carse for three successive fours in passing his half-century from 67 balls.
When Onions returned, Gubbins tried to pull a ball from off stump which wasn’t short enough for the shot and fell lbw for 60.
A similar error brought Durham’s only success of the afternoon, Compton departing for 38 when he dragged an attempted pull off Pringle into his stumps.
The fourth-wicket pair had added 90 when both fell on 267 – Malan opening the face and trying to work Chris Rushworth square on the off-side, only to edge to Michael Richardson, before Voges pushed forward to a good ball from Stokes and nicked to Scott Borthwick at second slip.
— Durham Cricket Club (@DurhamCricket) April 24, 2016
A stand of 71 in 18 overs followed between Simpson and Paul Stirling, who remained unbeaten on 41.
Malan said: “It’s not the sort of pitch you expect up here at the start of the season, so we were keen to bat. We all got a start but no-one has gone on to three figures, which is frustrating.
“We would still have taken that score at the start of the day and you never know how good a pitch is until both sides have bowled on it. If we can get a few more runs we will be in the driving seat.
“The pitch is quite slow so it was difficult to score when they bowled straight. We had to take advantage of any width. I struggled a bit for rhythm early on but found my feet more once I settled in.”
Onions said: “It’s been a testing day but we did well to take seven wickets on a good pitch against a strong batting line-up.
“We just to need to knock the tail over quickly tomorrow.”