Northamptonshire 310 for 6 (Wakely 76, Rossington 67 Murtagh 4-43) v Middlesex
The opening day of the new season was the type of day that has eluded Northamptonshire for many years as they steadily built a score in testing conditions against a good attack. Having been sent in, the host made 310 for 6, led by fifties from Alex Wakely and Adam Rossington.
Many times did a high-class seam attack of Tim Murtagh, who took the first four wickets to fall, James Harris and England internationals Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones beat the bat, but Northants bided their time on a fairly slow wicket and grew several useful partnerships.
The most profitable was the 99 added by Wakely and Rob Keogh that occupied 28.2 overs of the afternoon and set up Northants' day. Wakely, Northants leading runscorer in 2018, struck seven fours in going past 50 in 102 balls en route to 76 and Keogh compiled a smart 46. The pair fell either side of tea, Wakely slashing Murtagh to first slip and Keogh driving Finn to second, loose strokes both but old habits - that had been well resisted throughout the day - die hard.
From a solid 182 for 4, Rossington - after two failures against Durham MCCU last week - made a bright 67, including pulling Roland-Jones over midwicket for six and flicking the same bowler to Max Holden on the fence, only for the fielder to stumble over the boundary.
Most of Rossington's runs came after tea - a time when Northants repeatedly folded last season. But here, a sixth-wicket stand of 67, ended when Rossington was bowled by a relieved Roland-Jones, ensured the initiative would not be surrendered.
Jason Holder was the other half of the stand. The West Indies captain walked out to cheers and a wonderful sense of excitement that a genuine star of the world game was gracing Wantage Road. Crunching his second ball through point for four only raised the level of anticipation. He took his new county to the close unbeaten on 36.
Middlesex know enough about the competitiveness of Division Two after their struggle last season and were given an immediate reminder that promotion will be hard-earned. They could consider themselves a little unlucky with the amount of times they beat the bat but Finn proved expensive, going at over four runs an over, and seven no-balls were delivered, while they also missed one golden chance when Stevie Eskinazi dropped Wakely on 41.
As has been the case for many years, Middlesex were led by Murtagh. Now in his 20th season of first-class cricket, he trapped Rob Newton lbw, had Ricardo Vasconcelos caught behind just before lunch, Josh Cobb caught at mid-on after the interval before breaking the biggest partnership of the day with Wakely's wicket. But his wait for a 31st career five-wicket haul will have to wait at least one more day.