Joyce leaves the job half finished

Hampshire 275 and 28-2 v Middlesex 279
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The Independent Online

The Rose Bowl is a splendid venue for cricket but, irritatingly, the worst part about it is also the most important: the pitch. Uneven bounce and sometimes exaggerated movement provide a real challenge for batsman, both mentally and technically, and the fact that Middlesex recovered to parity having slumped to 27 for 3 is testament to both Ed Joyce and Owais Shah.

The Rose Bowl is a splendid venue for cricket but, irritatingly, the worst part about it is also the most important: the pitch. Uneven bounce and sometimes exaggerated movement provide a real challenge for batsman, both mentally and technically, and the fact that Middlesex recovered to parity having slumped to 27 for 3 is testament to both Ed Joyce and Owais Shah.

Neither featured in the England Development Squad of 25 announced on Thursday, but their stand of 166, the main portion of Middlesex's score, was built on strong mental discipline, not chasing the balls that nipped off the pitch, predominant use of straight bats and, as ever, a little luck.

How Andrew Strauss, one of the 25 and guaranteed to start against Bangladesh and Australia, could do with a little of that last ingredient. His indifferent start to the season continued when he pulled straight to square leg early in the morning session. He was soon followed by Ben Hutton, edging a lifter from Chris Tremlett, and then Ed Smith, lbw offering no stroke to an inswinger, before Joyce and Shah steadied the innings.

Whatever Shane Warne tried, and as captain or bowler he is prepared to try just about everything, they were steadfast. Shah has played one-day cricket for England and is one of those gifted few who seem to have a lot of time to play. Yet despite his obvious talent he has not dominated the run-scoring charts and so remains a peripheral figure.

Joyce, when he qualifies in July, could become much more. Like a couple of famous left-handers before him, his strokes ooze elegance and style. But he is no dilettante. He adjusted well to steep bounce when cutting and has proved an efficient, attractive run-scorer, which made his dismissal, driving a catch back to the persevering Warne, so frustrating.

It was a good half-century, but with the pitch likely to deteriorate further and Middlesex having to bat last and chase down a total against the best leg-spinner ever, it should have been a century.

He was not as culpable as Shah, who danced down the pitch in Warne's next over and was flummoxed by a quicker leg-spinner. Warne is a canny operator and knew that Shah had become agitated in recent overs against Tremlett.

The tall fast bowler, another of the 25, consistently beat Shah in a probing, aggressive spell and twice hit him on the knuckles. To advance so quickly and so far to the blond master was little more than suicide.

The good work of the partnership had started to be undone, and that is something all teams need to recognise when they visit the Rose Bowl. The old adage of "one wicket brings two" is more likely on these pitches - sometimes more than two, as happened when Paul Weekes edged behind. Three wickets had fallen for 24 runs as the grafting mentality ceased.

The lower order, in cahoots with Scott Styris, did ensure a tiny lead, which was improved when Hampshire lost both openers in the final overs.

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