County Cricket - Makeshift Middlebrook makes it look too easy

James Middlebrook
James Middlebrook
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IT was a day to savour for James Middlebrook as his century steered Northamptonshire to a position of dominance in their County Championship clash with Gloucestershire.

The off-spinning all-rounder, moved up to open in the absence of the injured Rob Newton, peeled off a chanceless 121 as the home side made the most of winning the toss and almost perfect batting conditions.

And the outcome, after 96 overs of toil from an inexperienced but willing attack, is a platform from which a total, if not necessarily matchwinning then one from which defeat will not become an option, can be constructed.

Something closing in on, or in excess of, 500 should be on the agenda and if that can be accomplished by teatime today then all the better.

Batting hasn’t been the easiest of tasks in the precipatation-dominated first few weeks of the season.

Damp, unrolled pitches and general moisture allround have made it a precarious existence for those who occupy the top order slots.

But yesterday was, as a famous Yorkshire opening batsman-cum-commentator is all too fond of saying, ‘a great day for batting.’

A flat, easy-paced surface, that offered little in the way of assistance for bowlers of any kind, was made for a day at the crease and once Alex Gidman had called incorrectly, that is what the County set about achieving.

And to all extents and purposes, they made a pretty good fist of it.

Moving a player who has spent the vast majority of his career residing in the lower reaches of the order to the summit could easily be considered something of a gamble, the weakening of one area to the not necessarily strengthening of another.

But if yesterday was the first time you had ever set sight on Middlebrook the batsman, you would be hard pushed to believe that he was anything other than an accomplished opener.

Always possessed of a sound technique, the 35-year-old left the ball shrewdly, defended stoutly and put anything loose away decisively, accelerating after reaching 50, moving to 100 in just 54 more deliveries.

Coetzer was more circumspect at the other end, his half century taking an age to arrive, but at no stage did he look like getting out.

Once Middlebrook departed, slapping an Alex Gidman half-tracker to cover, David Sales looked in good touch before skewing a drive to point.

Coetzer continued on in an unflappable manner and although Alex Wakely, after an all too familiar cameo, had his bails trimmed in the last over of the day, it was one that belonged to the hosts and, especially so, Middlebrook.