Middlesex 114 for 3 (White 52*) trail Surrey 154 (Murtagh 4-28) by 40 runs
"Look up, not down," is the guiding principle for captains winning the toss at Lord's. Pitches can be deceptive in their appearance, so the prevailing wisdom suggests, and thus it is safer to trust the overhead conditions. As such, much of the first day of this London derby was difficult to comprehend, as 13 wickets fell under clear blue skies to leave Middlesex 16 for 3 at 4.10pm, having inserted Surrey and bowled them out before tea.
But a determined, unbroken stand of 98 in just over two hours between Sam Robson and Robbie White ensured that Middlesex had the upper hand overnight, with the opportunity to press on towards a position of dominance. For White in particular, this was a crucial innings. His second-innings 73 at Hampshire last week ensured that Stevie Eskinazi - the stand-in captain for the first two rounds - dropped out of the side instead of him to accommodate Peter Handscomb's inclusion, but left him needing to repay that faith; at 25 and yet to nail down a first-team spot, his early-season form could easily define his career
He came in with Reece Topley swinging the ball late from the Nursery End and with the first-innings capitulation against Mohammad Abbas last week fresh in the memory, but showed resolve to reach the close unbeaten. He offered a pair of half-chances, with neither Rory Burns nor Ollie Pope able to dive forward and get their hands underneath balls outside-edged into the slip cordon, and survived a prolonged lbw shout when Topley hit him on the pad, but became the match's first half-centurion in the final over of the day with a confident square-drive through cover point. Robson, at the far end, was resolute as ever.
Their stand means that the deficit for Middlesex is just 40 heading into the second day, which had looked unlikely when Topley struck three times in his first three overs. He had Max Holden in his second, squeezing a half-volley out to second slip, before bowling Nick Gubbins with a low full toss that dipped in late and bursting through Handscomb's considerable gate in his third. For Handscomb, it was a harsh reminder of the realities of county cricket: he signed as the club's overseas player some 76 weeks ago and finally made his debut as captain here, but there is little room for loose drives this early in the summer.
Topley, playing his fourth first-class match since May 2017, was as impressive in a wicketless second spell as he had been in his first, and his return to red-ball cricket will invite questions as to whether he can offer England a point of difference in Australia this winter; while he needs to prove his fitness before they become more serious, there are not many 6ft 8in left-arm seamers around the country who can swing the ball late.
While Middlesex's batting has been brittle since their Championship win in 2016, there has never been much doubt about their bowling attack, particularly with Tim Murtagh still firing despite his 40th birthday looming in the middle-distance of early August. He has always thrived against his old club, taking 53 wickets at 21.13 against them including today's haul, and remains the gold standard for nibbly county seamers who rely on control rather than express pace.
"A London derby also adds a little bit of extra spice," Murtagh said at the close. "You know each other and you want to get one over your mates, and having played for Surrey myself, it's probably that bit more special for me. We haven't started the season well and it's almost the ideal game to come into. Hopefully tomorrow will be the best day to bat on the pitch but I think there will be a bit in it all the way through for the seamers."
As is so often the case, he did the early damage, having Burns caught at second slip and hitting Hashim Amla on the knee roll in front of leg stump in his third over. Burns' early-season form may be a frustration, though he was on the wrong end of an umpiring decision at The Oval last week; Amla's lean start will be of greater concern, after he was backed to continue as their overseas player even at the age of 38.
Pope quickly slipped back into gear, fresh from 245 against Leicestershire, but he fell to an ill-judged shot, looking to drive a full ball in the off-stump channel through mid-on and edging to second slip. He was one of Toby Roland-Jones' two victims before lunch, with Ben Foakes nicking an outswinger through to John Simpson; while Roland-Jones appears to have lost some pace during his injury-riddled few years, he looked noticeably less laboured in his action on Thursday than he had at the start of the season.
The afternoon started with a cluster of wickets: three in the space of 12 balls, without a run being scored. Murtagh was again the protagonist, nipping one back up the slope to trim the bails of Jamie Smith - who was born three weeks after Murtagh's first-class debut - and having Jordan Clark caught at cover playing a booming drive for his 850th first-class wicket. In between, Roland-Jones had found some extra bounce from a length to kiss the shoulder of Mark Stoneman's bat.
The tail added 47 for the final three wickets, adding a sheen of respectability to the score, but Ethan Bamber and debutant legspinner Luke Hollman - who grew up playing together at North Middlesex CC - both made breakthroughs, before Gubbins' direct hit from the third-man boundary finished things off. Middlesex have lacked killer instinct so far this season, but have the chance to put things right tomorrow.