Sanderson does early damage as Northants put pressure on Middlesex

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Ben Sanderson took advantage of a fragile Middlesex top order to give Northamptonshire some control on the first day of the LV= Insurance County Championship clash at Wantage Road.

Sanderson, returning to the side after recovering from a sore knee, took three wickets for just two runs in his opening burst to leave Middlesex reeling on 11 for four inside 10 overs.

It followed two similar top-order collapses against Essex at Lord’s last weekend with Middlesex’s batters again displaying their weaknesses against the seaming ball.

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Middlesex were indebted once more to Ryan Higgins who came in with the score on 36 for five and hit a vital half-century, helping the Seaxes up to 149 all out, repeating the rescue act he performed against Essex when he also hit 70.

Ben Sanderson helped Northamptonshire take control with the ball (picture: Peter Short)Ben Sanderson helped Northamptonshire take control with the ball (picture: Peter Short)
Ben Sanderson helped Northamptonshire take control with the ball (picture: Peter Short)

Despite losing two early wickets, Hassan Azad and Luke Procter were fluent in reply for Northamptonshire, sharing a 50 partnership to take the score to 81 before Azad was caught behind off Middlesex skipper Toby Roland-Jones for 33.

The hosts closed without further loss on 111 for three, 38 behind, with Procter unbeaten on 39.

This is something of a must-win game for both sides after they endured defeats in their opening matches, but it was Northamptonshire who made the most of conditions after winning the toss and asking Middlesex to bat.

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While batting looked distinctly precarious against the moving ball and a disciplined Northamptonshire attack, several of Middlesex’s batters were guilty of playing loosely outside off stump.

Indeed, the first three wickets all fell to catches behind the stumps.

Mark Stoneman was the first to go thanks to an excellent diving catch from keeper Lewis McManus before Sam Robson edged low to first slip.

South African international Pieter Malan then became Sanderson’s third victim caught at second slip.

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The wickets of Steve Eskinazi and Max Holden, both to LBW decisions, brought Higgins together with keeper John Simpson. The pair had enjoyed a century stand against Essex and threatened to mount another big partnership here with Simpson locating the boundary for the first time in the innings.

The Middlesex keeper dug in, spending more than an hour at the crease before Procter got one to seam back and knock over his off-stump.

Higgins looked increasingly assured, unfurling nine boundaries all around the ground despite losing partners regularly at the other end.

When Tom Helm fell to a stunning diving one-handed diving return catch by Chris Tremain, the end of the Middlesex innings looked nigh at 110 for nine.

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Ethan Bamber though kept Higgins company to frustrate Northamptonshire’s bowlers with a last-wicket stand of 39 before Higgins became Tremain’s third victim of the innings.

Northamptonshire lost opener Ricardo Vasconcelos early in their innings, caught in the slips off Bamber, while Sam Whiteman fell cheaply for 13 soon after tea, trapped LBW by Higgins.

That left the way clear for Azad and Procter to build a partnership and settle nerves in the home dressing room.

Middlesex’s bowlers though stuck at their task with a probing line which kept Northamptonshire honest.

Once Azad fell, the hosts were content to bat steadily and take the score into three figures, with Procter and in-form Rob Keogh unbeaten at the close.