Joyce and Hutton dig in as Essex fizzle out

Middlesex 174-4 v Essex
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For the first three-quarters of an hour of a rain-curtailed day Middlesex threatened to go the way of Nottinghamshire as Jon Dakin continued the good work he began at Trent Bridge last week.

At that point the Essex paceman had sent back three Middlesex men in the space of 26 balls with some wicked swing bowling from the Nursery End, while his new ball partner Scott Brant consistently beat the bat, but without any joy from the other end.

It called for some serious application and Middlesex got it from Ben Hutton and Ed Joyce, who dug in and waited for the right ball before popping up from their foxhole to let fly with the occasional shot.

For more than two hours the fourth-wicket pair first of all steadied the ship then gradually sailed her into safer waters. Play had not got under way until 2.15 and shortly after that the first wicket fell. Sven Koenig played at a ball he could and should have left alone, but went to glance it and presented wicketkeeper James Foster with a diving catch to his right. Owais Shah square-drove his first ball to the boundary, but the next one opened him up and he presented Will Jefferson at second slip with a waist-high catch.

When the Middlesex captain Andrew Strauss got one that swung into the left-hander he played across it and departed lbw. Enter Joyce and cue the start of a 128-run stand during the next 40 overs. Hutton gave evidence of his serious cricket pedigree (grandson of Sir Len, son of Richard) in an innings that was rigidly disciplined.

Gradually the pair erased the optimism that had kept Essex bubbling for the first hour. But after four hours of Hutton they must have been relieved that the weather had not subjected them to a full day of the man.