Warwickshire 228 for 6 (Rhodes 95*, Briggs 71*, Murtagh 5-55) trail Middlesex 121 (De Caires 40, Hannon-Dalby 5-29) by 107 runs
Murtagh, who retires at the end of the season, took two early wickets to complete a five-wicket haul (5 for 55) on his last appearance for the county at Lord’s to reduce the visitors to 95 for 6 in the first hour of play.
However, with the veteran seamer’s support cast lacking any direction or rhythm, Rhodes (95 not out) and Briggs (71 not out) added an unbroken 133 for the seventh wicket to steer Warwickshire to 228 for 6, a lead of 107 before rain washed out any further play less than an hour after lunch.
To add to Middlesex’s woes, all-rounder Ryan Higgins left the field just prior to lunch with what appeared to be a rib or side injury and it remains to be seen whether he will be able to return to the attack in the match.
Rhodes, unbeaten on 36 overnight, got the scoreboard moving with a drive which deflected off the stumps, wrongfooting opposing skipper Mark Stoneman fielding at mid-off and speeding away for four.
However, it wasn’t long before Murtagh was producing another seam masterclass from his beloved Nursery End. A superb inswinger trapped Ed Barnard on the crease to end his skittish innings of 10. The former Ireland international topped that effort in his next over with one which deviated a fraction off the surface to beat the inside edge of Michael Burgess and crash into the stumps. When he bowls like this it seems inconceivable that he’s calling time on his career after 23 seasons.
Sadly, from a Middlesex perspective he couldn’t bowl forever and once he retreated from the attack, Rhodes and Briggs wrestled back control of the game against far friendlier offerings.
Rhodes despatched a Tom Helm long-hop to the square leg fence to reach 50 from 110 balls and when Jayant Yadav, troubled by no-ball issues, changed ends, Briggs contemptuously reversed-swept his fellow spinner for four to move Warwickshire into the lead. Another four to third man raised the 50 stand and by lunch the visitors were 59 ahead.
Briggs survived a big shout for caught behind off Yadav from the first ball after lunch before launching an assault on some ordinary bowling, his ninth four taking him past 50 for only the seventh time in his first-class career.
The 100 stand was raised, and the assured Rhodes was within sight of his ninth first-class hundred when the weather closed in.