Middlesex set Essex big victory target

PUBLISHED: 19:20 23 April 2017 | UPDATED: 19:20 23 April 2017

Middlesex are hosting Essex at Lord's in the Specsavers County Championship (pic Anthony Devlin/PA)

Middlesex are hosting Essex at Lord's in the Specsavers County Championship (pic Anthony Devlin/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Defending champions declaration leaves rivals to chase 452 at Lord's

Middlesex set Essex a target of 452 runs for victory in their Specsavers County Championshpi Division One meeting after dominating day three at Lord’s.

A fighting sixth-wicket stand of 127 between Dan Lawrence and Adam Wheater was the only resistance of note that Essex could offer against the defending champions.

Wheater rode his luck to score a punchy 64, with 10 fours, while impressive 19-year-old Lawrence batted with great determination before being ninth out for 75 In all, he stayed for four and three-quarter hours, facing 185 balls and hitting nine fours.

Essex began day three on 120-4, needing another 238 runs to avoid the follow-on, and were soon in trouble when Ravi Bopara, on six, edged an outswinger from Toby Roland-Jones to Sam Robson at third slip.

But the Lawrence-Wheater alliance then mixed some lovely strokeplay with a hefty dollop of good fortune, with Wheater surviving three sharp chances nicked off Roland-Jones in the seamer’s second spell of the morning session.

Wheater escaped on 27, 33 and then 42. First he edged low to second slip where Ollie Rayner could not scoop up a difficult chance, and in Roland-Jones’s second over back another edge deflected off diving wicketkeeper John Simpson’s right glove for four. It did not look, though, as if it would have carried to first slip, so Simpson was right to go for the ball.

Finally, Wheater thick-edged a drive to third slip where the diving Robson got his fingers to it but could not prevent the ball flying away to the boundary.

It was off-spinner Rayner who made the breakthrough in mid-afternoon, with Wheater slog-sweeping to square leg where Steve Eskinazi showed remarkable reflexes to twist and grab the ball on the rebound after initially looking as if he had only managed to parry it.

Tim Murtagh and Finn, three times, then struck with the second new ball to remove Ryan ten Doeschate, Simon Harmer, Lawrence and Neil Wagner in quick succession. Ten Doeschate (20) and Lawrence were both trapped lbw, while Harmer mishit a pull to mid-wicket.

Paceman Finn (4-51) bowled Wagner to polish off the innings on 295, as Essex lost their last five wickets for 42 runs.

But it was a luckless Roland-Jones, who took 3-81, who was the pick of the Middlesex attack and he will look to lead the push for victory on the final day.

Middlesex chose not to enforce the follow-on and saw Robson and Nick Gubbins put on a quickfire 146 for the first wikcet, following their 241-run stand in the first innings, when both hit centuries.

Robson made 77 from 84 balls and Gubbins hit two sixes in a 62-ball 64, before Eskinazi – the third centurion for the hosts first time around – thumped a whirlwind 62 off 34 balls, racing to his half-century with three successive sixes off Jamie Porter.

He actually hit four sixes in a row as Harmer was lofted over long-on, and finished with five maximums from his last nine balls faced, as well as five fours, as Middlesex declared on 239-3 from 36 overs.

Faced with a mammoth target of 452, Essex were 19-0 at the close with Nick Browne unbeaten on 17 and Alastair Cook on two.

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