Bopara eclipsed by another Aussie

Middlesex 280-6 Essex
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England's Ashes woes necessitated rare Championship sorties for Essex's Ravi Bopara and Alastair Cook yet, with a certain sense of irony, it was Australian-born opening batsman Sam Robson who hogged centre stage with an opening-day hundred here.

Robson, a wiry and diminutive right-hander from Sydney, honed his dogged approach to batsmanship in the hard school of New South Wales grade cricket. Indeed, he played for the state's Under-17 and Under-19 sides and even won a Baggy Green at Under-19 level before defecting to England last year.

Granted a United Kingdom passport courtesy of an English mother, Robson made his second XI debut for Middlesex toward the tail-end of last season and this summer, barely a month after turning 20, he has been tasked with papering over the cracks of a fragile top-order.

He batted for almost six hours in front of a sizeable first-day crowd for his maiden first-class hundred which came, with the shadows lengthening, after a clipped two through wide mid-on off Tony Palladino.

Robson's effort rescued Middlesex, second-to-bottom in the Second Division, and helped them fight back to reach 280 for 6 at the close, having initially stumbled to 66 for 3 soon after lunch following the loss of their acting captain Eoin Morgan.

Opener Nick Compton had gone aiming a back-foot force through the covers against the bustling right-arm seam of Graham Napier only to pick out Bopara at extra cover. Napier also accounted for Owais Shah who, with his score on eight, played around his front pad to go leg before.

Morgan should have followed without scoring when he nibbled at one going across him from Napier, but Cook downed a low chance at second slip. Morgan failed to cash in, however, and was soon out after edging a leg-side waft to a diving James Foster behind the stumps to give Napier a third wicket.

Cook, in only his fifth first-class appearance for Essex this summer, blotted his copybook again when downing a tougher chance away to his left from the flashing outside edge of Dawid Malan; this time it was to prove a costly miss.

Robson found an ally in Malan and the pair joined forces to post 143 for the fourth wicket inside 44 overs. Malan, the more expansive of the two, drove and cut well to hit eight fours in his 109-ball 50 but his enterprise eventually proved his undoing when an attempted push-drive against Danish Kaneria flew to slip where Cook this time held on.

After suffering a severe dose of the nervous 90s, Robson clinched his hundred from 255 balls and with eight fours when he ran two through wide mid-on, but Palladino soon had his revenge by trapping him leg-before five overs from stumps after the rookie played a weary waft across the line.