Leicestershire 353 for 8 (Ackermann 151*, Dexter 66, Murtagh 5-52) v Middlesex
“In many ways, it’s been enjoyable to see grounds we don’t normally see,” said one good citizen of Middlesex as he reflected on life in Division Two of the Championship. What he politely left unspoken, though, as he gazed upon the hushed setting of Grace Road was the thought that one season would be quite enough. And, for Middlesex, an immediate return to Division One is not remotely the sure-fire thing that many pundits assumed it would be in April.
Few would have imagined that Middlesex would come to Leicester in mid-June down in seventh, with only one win from five matches, to face a Leicestershire side, perennial whipping boys for longer than they care to remember, in third.
Middlesex, already 28 points off a promotion place, need their spurt to begin soon. But a polished, unbeaten 150 by Colin Ackermann, once billed as the future of South African cricket, now seeking in his third season to be the future of Leicestershire, has ensured it must wait a little longer. The first day ended in the Foxes’ favour at 353 for 8.
The South African was playing with a protective cast on a finger in his right hand, but he was not inhibited as he reached his hundred with a huge six over midwicket off the left-arm spinner Ravi Patel, whose inclusion ahead of Ollie Rayner did not pay immediate dividends, and collected 150 off the final ball of the day. He survived another blow, too, on 54, this time when a return drive from Neil Dexter struck the boot of Hilton Cartwright and flew up into his face. He remained down on the floor a worryingly long time before responding in redoubtable fashion.
For Middlesex’s director of cricket, Angus Fraser, the phrase emblazoned on the back of his sponsor’s shirt – Perfect Smile – was hardly encouraged by the unfolding of the day. Until the league table improves he will just have to rely upon a few tips on how to fake one, such as the Tongue Touch Trick (place your tongue on the roof of your mouth), the Close and Open Eyes Trick (avoids awkward expressions brought on by dropped catches) and the Clamp and Smirk Trick (which in itself might not guarantee promotion but will apparently make him look cool and mysterious.
The redoubtable county performer, Toby Roland-Jones, is out for the season, but three seamers – Tim Murtagh, James Harris and Hylton Cartwright have 53 wickets between them at a decent average and only one win has so far fallen their way. Two gun batsmen, Dawid Malan and Nick Gubbins, have been absent because of England and injury respectively and Sam Robson has barely made a run. Malan is back here with a big task ahead.
Murtagh was again a great provider. To finish with 5 for 52 from 23 controlled overs and still be behind the game will have been a frustrating outcome. He made the first breakthrough of the day, producing a fine delivery which seamed back in to hit the top of Horton’s off and middle stumps.
Two more wickets soon fell, but the cloud began to clear and Ackermann, in company with Neil Dexter, took advantage on a pitch which had been used the previous day for a one-day match between Leicestershire and India A.
Dexter’s 50 against his former county came off 73 balls, but shortly after he was dropped by Middlesex captain Malan, a tough low chance diving to his right off James Harris, Murtagh beat an attempted drive and wicket-keeper John Simpson took an easy catch.
Murtagh had Lewis Hill caught at first slip by Robson, bowled Zak Chappell and bounced out Callum Parkinson, but Ackermann found support in between times from Ben Raine and even Gavin Griffiths dug in for a career-best 18 not out.