Lancashire had a tough opening day at Old Trafford in their County Championship clash with title aspirants Middlesex.
In the penultimate round of fixtures, Middlesex took command against the home side by posting 258 for three by close, while nearest challengers Yorkshire, whom they meet next in a potential title decider, suffered another upper-order collapse.
Nick Gubbins and Sam Robson both made half-centuries on the day they were mentioned by England’s Test-batting coach Mark Ramprakash as possible replacements for Alex Hales after it emerged he is boycotting the tour of Bangladesh, yet, with 69 and 77 respectively, neither were able to post the type of scores that could see them usurp Lancashire’s own Haseeb Hameed in the pecking order.
England’s one-day team will be led by Hameed’s Lancashire colleague Jos Buttler as Eoin Morgan joined Hales in withdrawing from consideration, though the new skipper was unable to mark his first County Championship appearance in two years with a significant contribution behind the stumps, failing to make a one-handed catch off a Nick Compton edge which may not have carried anyway.
Ramprakash listed Gubbins, Robson, Hameed and Keaton Jennings, a centurion on Monday, as the four “at the head of the queue” to replace Hales as skipper Alastair Cook’s opening partner.
Three of the quartet were on the field in Manchester, though the biggest cheer 19-year-old Hameed elicited came during the interval when he picked up his county cap, becoming the youngest Lancashir e player since the war to do so.
That was because the Red Rose had opted to insert the leaders having won the toss and it was a decision they may have regretted when Robson and Gubbins reached lunch with 93 on the board.
The pair’s biggest issue having moved beyond three figures together early in the afternoon session was the darkened conditions they were trying to bat in and, just before 1:30pm, the teams went off due to bad light.
It was a farcically short stoppage, particularly as the Test ground boasts floodlights which had been used during the morning session, but apparently necessary while they were given time to cool off before being turned on again.
It may have proved long enough to disrupt Gubbins as just eight runs later he misjudged a pull off Kyle Jarvis to float a catch to Alviro Petersen at midwicket.
That brought Compton, not known for his explosiveness, to the crease and he drove his very first ball to the fence. Rather than hinting at a new aggressive approach, it proved to be an anomaly as just eight runs followed in the next 54 deliveries.
Like Gubbins, Robson had appeared settled before edging to Liam Livingstone at first slip when trying to drive Simon Kerrigan just after Middlesex had reached 150.
A 29-ball scoreless stint from Compton was eventually ended and he and Dawid Malan did play with a little more urgency to bring up a batting point with a 73 ball half-century stand as Middlesex headed for tea at 204 for two.
The duo were on course for a third-wicket century alliance themselves before Compton, who had earlier launched a six straight down the ground, saw his off-stump uprooted by Jarvis when on 56.
More bad light prevented Malan from becoming the fourth Middlesex player to make 50 and he will return on Tuesday one run shy of that landmark with Stevie Eskinazi also at the crease.