Middlesex 162 for 3 (Higgins 60*) vs Nottinghamshire
Relegation-threatened Middlesex closed a truncated opening day of their LV= Insurance County Championship match against Nottinghamshire on 162 for three as they began the last round of the 2023 season with one eye on Kent’s progress against Lancashire in Canterbury.
Middlesex have to better Kent’s result or match it with at least one more bonus point than their rivals if they are to avoid joining Northamptonshire in Division Two next season.
Given that they have won only two batting bonus points all season, skipper Toby Roland-Jones might have taken a few by surprise with his decision to bat first, although he might argue that his players are at least close to the four-an-over run-rate required in the 42 overs possible after rain delayed the start until 2pm.
Whether they turn that into a substantial hand of points is another matter, especially since they have also lost Stevie Eskinazi, at least for the moment. He was hit on the head by a ball from Lyndon James on 23 and was not deemed fit to continue.
Thankfully fit currently, and with Nottinghamshire already assured of remaining in Division One next season, Ball was given the chance to say a proper goodbye, making his first outing in the red-ball side since July in place of the Sri Lankan Asitha Fernando.
He took the new ball alongside Brett Hutton, who has been the mainstay of the Nottinghamshire attack this year with Olly Stone and Luke Fletcher also sidelined. Neither of them started particularly well but took wickets in consecutive overs to remove both Middlesex openers with 33 on the board.
Ball struck first, drawing an edge from Sam Robson for his 204th first-class wicket for the county, before Hutton straightened one to dismiss Mark Stoneman leg before.
Eskinazi had an escape on four, dropped by Joe Clarke at first slip with Ball about to celebrate a second wicket, but the introduction of Lyndon James as Hutton took a breather brought a divided immediately when the all-rounder’s first delivery, angled in to Max Holden, took out the left-hander’s middle stump.
Middlesex were 93 for three when Eskinazi, struck a nasty blow on the side of the head attempting to pull James, had to leave the field. Ironically, Eskinazi’s last Championship appearance in a disappointing season, against Lancashire two weeks ago, was as a concussion substitute after Holden was hurt during the warm-ups on day two.
A brief stoppage for a shower at 117 for three was followed by another interruption after Steven Mullaney landed heavily making a diving stop, the Nottinghamshire skipper becoming the second injury casualty of the day, although he was soon back on the field.
It will be determined overnight whether Middlesex need a concussion sub for Eskinazi. In the meantime, Higgins is taking the lead role on the field, reaching his second consecutive fifty and his ninth of the season, from 63 balls with six fours.
The three changes made by Middlesex included the omission of Tim Murtagh, who is retiring at the end of the season at the age of 42, which means that his appearance in the eight-wicket defeat to Warwickshire at Lord’s, in which he took six for 83 in the first innings and eight in the match, was his final farewell after 23 years as a player, first at Surrey, and at Middlesex since 2007.