Middlesex 246 & 211-4 trail Essex 542-3d by 85 runs
Nick Compton dug in to record a patient century as he led Middlesex’s attempt to save the day-night match and deny Essex a fifty victory that would take them 18 points clear at the top of Division One.
Compton had managed just 81 runs in four previous Specsavers County Championship innings this season, with a highest score of 22, after a delayed start due to injury. He went in at the end of the final day’s second session on 104 not out and Middlesex 211 for four.
The one-time England opener had gone to the crease mid-evening on Wednesday with Middlesex requiring 296 just to make Essex bat again. He was joined in a fourth-wicket stand of 153 in 55 overs by Paul Stirling which was the epitome of obduracy.
Essex used seven bowlers in attempting to split the pair, though they did themselves no favours when they twice put down Stirling. The Irishmen finally departed, the fourth wicket of the innings for Simon Harmer, just before the second interval for 55 that included five fours and a six.
Earlier it had looked as though Harmer was going to run through Middlesex on his own in double-quick time. He took three for 15 from his first 26 deliveries of the day before Compton and Stirling settled into their stride in a stand that showed the off-spinner more respect and wariness than had some of their colleagues.
Harmer made an immediate breakthrough with the first ball of the day after Middlesex had gone through 13 overs unscathed overnight. Nick Gubbins pushed forward to try and kill the turn and only managed to loop it into Alastair Cook’s hands at first slip.
Compton, when he had reached seven off 33 balls, decided to try and hit Harmer out of the attack with a six over long leg. It didn’t happen as Harmer bowled 16 overs in the first session unchanged but for a switch of ends.
His second wicket wasn’t long in coming. Stevie Eskanazi edged another that turned in, it hit Cook in the chest, but he was able to scoop the falling ball across to Varun Chopra to dive full-length and take the catch at leg slip.
In his next over, Harmer had Dawid Malan playing back as if to cut, only to miss the ball completely and lose his bails. Middlesex were 51 for three with around 87 overs still to negotiate.
Compton played watchfully, though he was made to understand why you don’t leave alone anything outside off-stump to Harmer as one fizzed in and almost shaved the wicket. However, when Harmer strayed fractionally off line, Compton pulled him to the midwicket boundary.
Stirling received a let-off when he had eked out 19, Cook putting down a routine chance from an edge off Paul Walter. The fourth-wicket partnership reached fifty from 18 overs before Compton’s sixth four took him to his own half-century from 111 balls.
Stirling should have gone in Harmer’s first over of the second session when one popped up to Dan Lawrence at short leg and was grassed. Harmer’s fury was visible, so was Lawrence’s contrition as he kicked the ground in frustration.
Let-off, the pair continued to prosper and raised their stand to 100 in 36 overs. Compton reached three-figures from 232 balls when he turned Harmer to midwicket shortly before the end of the second session. He had hit 12 fours and a six.
Stirling went to his fifty from 137 balls with a six off Lawrence over long-leg, but he perished in the next over, caught at leg slip by Ravi Bopara to give Harmer wicket No 4.