Northamptonshire 445 (Procter 81*, Wakely 76, Rossington 67, Murtagh 6-80) and 10 for 0 drew with Middlesex 271 (Harris 61*, Buck 5-54) and 317 for 4 dec (Malan 160*, Holden 54)
Dawid Malan's first century since May helped Middlesex secure a battling draw at Northants. At the time he came to the crease, Middlesex were 10 for 2 in their second innings, still 164 behind having been required to follow-on. But, under the watchful eye of national selector, Ed Smith, and Lions coach, Andy Flower, Malan resisted for almost six hours in making his highest score since 2015.
It was a satisfying innings for several reasons. For a start, it saw Malan help his side - this is his second season as captain - recover from an underwhelming opening two or three days of the season while, from a personal perspective, it helped him prove a point in front of Smith.
It was Smith who suggested, at the time of Malan's dropping from the Test team last year, that "his game may be better suited to overseas conditions." So to score runs here, in conditions where the ball seamed throughout the match and against a demanding attack was, as he put it, "extremely pleasing".
"It's nice to do it in front of him," Malan said. "I like proving points. I saw him arrive at lunch and it makes it extremely pleasing to bat like that in front of him. You can do all the talking you want, but it's all about scoring runs, really. There are eight Championship games before the Ashes. If someone can score two, three or even four big hundreds, you never know."
Malan cut a somewhat disconsolate figure last month on England's Caribbean tour. Despite averaging 50.00 with a strike-rate of 150.60 in T20Is, he was consigned to a role as 12th man throughout the series, forfeiting a more lucrative role in the PSL as a consequence. He retains ambitions in all three international formats but will know, aged 31, and with younger men vying for the same positions, time is not really on his side.
"Yes, I want to play for England in all three formats," he said. "I've shown glimpses that I can do it, but last year I looked too far ahead and took my eye off the ball. Right now, I'm just focused on playing well for Middlesex."
Malan impressed with both his elegance and his determination. He scored just 24 in opening session of the day but, as his dominance grew, unveiled some of the flowing drives and pulls for which he is familiar. He remained a bit frustrated with the team's overall performance - "we were nowhere near our best with the ball and there were too many soft dismissals with the bat" - but was encouraged by the fight shown on the final day.
Beautifully though Malan batted, Northants will rue a couple of missed opportunities. He was dropped twice, once in the 50s and once in the 60s, with Jason Holder putting down a tough chance at slip and Rob Keogh another tough one at backward point. Malan might also reflect that, if he is really to push for a spot in England's Test side, he might have to bat in the top three. They're not looking for anyone from No. 4 to No. 8 at present.
Smith and Flower may have been equally interested in the performance of Max Holden. With Malan he added 105 for the fourth-wicket, looking increasingly fluent as he progressed. It took an outrageous moment of fortune to dismiss him: a fierce cut thumped into Rob Newton's knee, taking evasive action at silly point, only to rebound to Adam Rossington behind the stumps.
Northants persisted admirably. But, as the day wore on, their bowlers started to tire; they had spent more than 180 successive overs in the field, after all. They can feel encouraged they enjoyed the best of the first three days of this game, but their coach, David Ripley, admitted the club does not currently have the sort of talent in the system that might one day replicate the deeds of David Willey, Olly Stone or Ben Duckett; all, to a greater or lesser degree, homegrown players.
Equally, uncovering the hidden gems in the club game - the likes of Richard Gleeson and Azharullah - is becoming ever harder. The fact that four of the five mentioned have departed to bigger clubs does not make his task any easier.
"It's a bit frustrating having your players picked off," he said. "Hopefully having a top division of 10 teams will take the pressure off a bit. We're in the bottom three in terms of the wages we pay and we don't have the depth of squad of some of our rivals. But we're a good team and, if we have some luck with injuries, we can push for promotion."
Ripley also confirmed that Cricket West Indies had placed no specific limit on Holder's workload, though there was an understanding that he would not be over bowled.
Middlesex's declaration left Northants facing a hypothetical target of 144 in 21 overs. In truth, Middlesex's aim was simply to repair their slow over rate from the first-innings and, with Northants having agreed not to chase the target, the match ended in somewhat farcical fashion with the likes of Eoin Morgan, Sam Robson and John Simpson (in a cap) having a bowl and Malan keeping wicket without pads. Suffice to say, none of them showed any great untapped ability and the batsmen declined run-scoring opportunities.
So, a slightly unsatisfactory end. But Malan's earlier resistance was real and might well have made an impression on Smith and co.