Middlesex 255-1 v Essex
Lord’s opened its doors for the first time this summer and little has changed over the winter months with Middlesex on top and their openers scoring runs.
Centuries for both Sam Robson and Nick Gubbins against Essex boded well for their international ambitions this summer and signalled Middlesex will be strong contenders to retain the championship pennant that on Friday was proudly flying from the flagpole above their dressing room at Lord’s for the first time in more than 20 years.
Essex, as close neighbours, always bring a healthy following to their matches at Lord’s and there was a decent crowd in for the start of Middlesex’s title defence. The day lacked the fireworks of Toby Roland-Jones’s title clinching hat-trick that ended last season but the performances of Robson and Gubbins, who put on 241 for the first wicket, carried the assured look of champions.
Gubbins scored 1,409 championship runs last summer including a vital 125 in the championship decider against Yorkshire and was close to England selection when Haseeb Hameed was forced home from the India tour.
Instead, Keaton Jennings was picked and made a hundred that should nail down a Test place this summer.
Runs in April this year are of less value in terms of Test selection than in most summers due to the prevalence of one-day cricket. There are another two months to go before the selectors sit down and pick the first Test squad of the summer, plenty of time for players to fall in and out of form.
Gubbins is facing the test of a second summer on the circuit, when his technique, and therefore any weaknesses, have been studied by opposition bowlers. But he showed few signs of faltering here against Essex who failed to make the most of the overhead conditions.
Robson was more expansive than usual, reeling off 19 fours as he reached three figures with Essex rarely threatening a wicket. Gubbins took on the off-spin of Simon Harmer, twice hitting him down the ground for six and leaving Essex to turn to seven bowlers before halfway through the day as they became more desperate for a breakthrough.
The streakiest of all Robson’s strokes was the outside edge for four off Ravi Bopara that brought up his hundred, while Gubbins looked in total control until he was caught behind shortly after acknowledging his century.
Middlesex’s batting is strong this season and Nick Compton, who missed the start of the season with a shoulder injury, was not picked for this match despite a century for the seconds earlier this week.