James Franklin played a captain’s innings of 135 to steer Middlesex out of trouble against Worcestershire on the opening day of their LV= County Championship Division One match at Uxbridge.
Franklin came in at 51 for four, after Middlesex saw his decision to bat first initially backfire, but by the time the 34-year-old former New Zealand all-rounder was out to what became the last ball of the day he had been vindicated as his team reached 289 for seven.
John Simpson kept Franklin faithful company in a sixth wicket stand of 170 in 48 overs and the Middlesex wicketkeeper’s three-hour 41 was also a vital innings for his county, who began this championship round tied on 98 points with Yorkshire in fourth place in Division One.
Simpson fell deep in the final session, edging Charlie Morris to second slip in the eighth over of the second new ball but Ollie Rayner then stayed with Franklin until his captain flicked a ball from Jack Shantry to leg slip to depart to the first ball of the 96th over.
Franklin was dropped on 120, at long leg off Joe Leach, but otherwise batted with calmness and no little power in stroking 18 fours from 255 balls in his four hours and 40 minutes at the crease.
For Worcestershire, the high point of the opening day came when Middlesex lost Joe Burns to slip to 102 for five but neither of their two off spinners, Saeed Ajmal and England’s No 1 Test slow bowler Moeen Ali, could make any impression.
Ajmal looks a shadow of his former self after the rehabilitation process he has gone through since being banned by the ICC for an illegal kink in his action, and took nought for 41 from 18 overs, while Moeen’s 12 overs in five spells – two of them single overs before lunch and tea, and another the penultimate over of the day – brought him no wicket for 37.
Burns, Middlesex’s Australian overseas player, hit a fine 57 from 106 balls to begin the Middlesex recovery after a tough first hour and a half for the home side on a pitch which was tinged with green and certainly helped the seamers early on.
Shantry, however, who finished the day with figures of 4 for 60, made Burns his third victim of the innings when he was athletically caught one-handed by Tom Fell, diving to his right at third slip.
With half their side out for 102, Middlesex looked in dire straits but Franklin – going to his half-century from 122 balls, and with five fours – was equal to the situation and found solid support from fellow left-hander Simpson.
In the opening session it had seemed a good toss for Worcestershire to lose. There were two wickets before lunch for Shantry and one apiece for his fellow seamers Morris and Leach.
Sam Robson was out to the very first ball of the match, smartly-held by a tumbling Fell at third slip as he looked to turn Morris towards mid wicket.
And Middlesex were 5 for 2 in the fourth over when Nick Compton, on 3, clipped a leg stump full toss from Leach low to mid wicket where Richard Oliver held a good catch.
Nick Gubbins and Burns added 40 for the third wicket to rally Middlesex a little, but then the left-handed Gubbins tried to flick a ball from Shantry to leg and succeeded only in lobbing a simple catch to Ajmal at mid on.
He made 21 and Paul Stirling, having got off the mark with a lovely cover driven four off Shantry, was then beaten by a ball from the left-arm seam and swing bowler – from around the wicket – which straightened off the pitch to have the Irish right-hander leg-before for 4.
Enter Franklin, though, and thanks to the captain’s second hundred of the championship season it all turned out well in the end for Middlesex.
He said at the end of play: “I am really annoyed at getting out – I’m filthy at myself for doing that in the last over of the day. If we had got through at just six wickets down then I would have been able to start again in the morning.
“But, from 51 for four, to get to where we are now has made it a reasonable fightback and so, from the team’s point of view, it’s been a reasonably satisfying day.
“The toss was about 50-50 for me. Earlier this morning it was green enough to think that you would bowl first if you won it, but then by the time we did toss it had changed colour a bit. I would have been happy to have lost it. I think it will take more spin by the fourth day and will get a bit low too.”