Middlesex 313 and 87 for 2 lead Somerset 172 (de Lange 51, Murtagh 4-46) by 228 runs
Relationships between incumbents and their successors-in-waiting are rarely straightforward. According to the Harvard Business Review, they are "fraught with emotion", and leave the heir apparent in an impossible situation: "if he pushes too hard, he alienates the CEO; if he doesn't push hard enough, his performance doesn't warrant a promotion to the top spot." Tony Blair and Sven-Göran Eriksson will happily attest that it leaves the current boss in an awkward position.
But at Middlesex, there are no such concerns. Tim Murtagh and Ethan Bamber, two right-arm swing bowlers at opposite ends of their careers, shared seven wickets between them on the second day at Lord's as they took charge of their County Championship season opener, combining either side of lunch to reduce Somerset to 89 for 9. Marchant de Lange hit a typically assertive fifty from No. 10 on debut to drag them past the follow-on target, but a calm innings from Nick Gubbins at No. 3 gave Middlesex a healthy lead by the close.
Perhaps Murtagh is not quite old enough to be Bamber's dad, but a 17-year age gap is still substantial. They are both nibbly bowlers who focus on control and movement rather than pace and bounce, and managed to extract enough from the overhead conditions to expose the batting frailties that have plagued Somerset throughout their pushes for the title over the course of the last five years.
Bamber's method of plugging away on a length is not particularly eye-catching, but his ability to maintain a tight economy rate and bowl long spells earned him selection ahead of both James Harris and Steven Finn in this fixture - a call vindicated by his three top-order wickets. There is life in the old dog yet, but Murtagh knows he is playing his part in grooming his eventual replacement.
"Just watching Tim work away is an absolute pleasure," Bamber said. "He's such a magician, and nobody bats an eyelid when he cleans up. I think he's absolutely sick of all the questions I ask him. I'm flattered by that comparison: Tim can do a lot of things that I certainly can't and probably will never be able to do and I hope that I bring something different to our attack."
Murtagh struck the first blows, bustling in from the Nursery End as is his wont. Using the slope to nip the ball back into the left-hander, he had Tom Lammonby caught behind off the inside edge - though Lammonby stood disconsolate, convinced he had played and missed - before Tom Abell poked an outswinger to Sam Robson at second slip.
Bamber's hooping inswinger from a length accounted for the off stump of Tom Banton, an old England Under-19 team-mate, before he had George Bartlett caught at slip and trapped James Hildreth, playing across a straight one, lbw straight after lunch. At 40 for 5, Somerset's hopes of starting the season with a win were in tatters, and they had a last-wicket stand of 83 to thank for sparing them the ignominy of batting again.
Murtagh is in the final year of his Middlesex contract, and will turn 40 later in the season, but shows no sign of slowing down. He says that he is fitter than he was 10 years ago, and remains in monthly conversations with the club's management about his future with them. It is not out of the question that Murtagh could yet end his career with 1000 first-class wickets - the example of Darren Stevens, who turns 45 this month, is serving a generation of players with a reminder that if the body holds, age does not need to be a barrier.
He appears to be embracing his role as a senior player, too. "The whole bowling group with the eight or nine seamers get on pretty well," Bamber said. "Those conversations are where you learn the most, especially with the experience we have in our dressing room - it would be silly not to take advantage of that. Everyone is so generous with their time and their experience."
While the new-ball attack did most of the damage, it was heartening to see Toby Roland-Jones back among the wickets after missing the whole of the 2020 season. Injuries have provided him with a number of significant setbacks since his breakthrough for England four summers ago, and while he was not at his metronomic best, he struck two significant blows by removing Craig Overton and Steven Davies early in the afternoon session.
For Somerset, a top-order collapse followed by a lower-order bailout was an all-too-familiar sensation. They have made 350 only five times since the start of the 2019 Championship season, with their top score in that time - 413 for 9 declared against Warwickshire last summer - largely down to some tail-end heroics. Having a stock of fast bowlers who can bat has been hugely helpful to them, but is not a sustainable source of big first-innings totals; the middle order of Abell, Hildreth and Bartlett will not reflect fondly on their dismissals here.
It could easily have been worse. De Lange expressed his batting approach in the simplest possible terms - "see ball, hit ball" - but his last-wicket stand with Jack Leach could yet prove crucial, especially with the third day set to be interrupted by rain. Overton gave Somerset hope with two early wickets in Middlesex's third innings, but Gubbins dug in before finding some fluency to reach the close unbeaten on 37 and put Middlesex firmly in the ascendancy.