Bopara's brittle belief blown away by Murtagh

Middlesex 356 Essex 107-4
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When checking to see if your lottery numbers have come up this weekend spare a thought for Essex and England batsman Ravi Bopara as, chances are, he won't even have bothered to buy a ticket.

It seems that 24-year-old Bopara, who awaits his fate at the hands of the selectors ahead of next week's Ashes decider, can do little right nowadays and yesterday's nine-minute stint at the crease against Middlesex here will have done little to promote his cause.

Had Essex captain Mark Pettini elected to bat after winning Tuesday's toss, chances are Bopara and England and team-mate Alastair Cook would have revelled in perfect batting conditions and filled their respective boots.

As it was, Pettini took to the field and, by the time he and his Essex bladesmen had their chance to shine just after noon yesterday, so the muggy overhead conditions best suited the Middlesex attack and their wily seamer Tim Murtagh in particular.

To make matters worse for Bopara, Test selector James Whitaker had the best view in the house to witness his seven-ball demise for only a single. Pushing half-forward down the line of off stump with a slightly open blade to his bat, Bopara followed the line of Murtagh's out-swinger but could only edge to second slip where Murali Kartik pocketed a regulation catch. Bopara turned despondently to march back to the pavilion. His mood can only have grown gloomier once he realised it had been the last ball before lunch.

By then Essex, in pursuit of Middlesex's first-innings total of 356, were already in trouble at 15 for two having already lost England opener Cook.

Though his place for next week's series finale at The Oval is seemingly assured, Cook would have expected to score more than a solitary boundary from a five-ball stay that ended when Murtagh also proved his nemesis. Prodding half-forward from the crease to an in-swinger, Cook was sent on his way leg-before once the ball thudded into his front pad ahead of his bat.

Murtagh's golden spell of four for 32 continued after the break when he had John Maunders caught at first slip off another away swinger and the right-armer then nipped one back off the seam to trap a leaden-footed Pettini leg before wicket to make it 32 for four.

The second day had started with Middlesex six wickets down overnight and only 20 runs short of their third bating bonus point. They lost Kartik in the early exchanges, but batted on beyond midday to collect a fourth point courtesy of an eye-catching half-century from promising all-rounder Gareth Berg.