Middlesex have given Steven Finn this match off as they seek to manage the England bowler’s comeback from his winter setbacks and were grateful for Toby Roland-Jones coming to their aid on a day when bowling looked likely to be a thankless occupation.
Warm sunshine and a flat wicket appeared only to favour the batting side but Roland-Jones had the stamina and perseverance to restrict Northamptonshire to a relatively modest reward in circumstances when they really ought to have made more.
Roland-Jones finished with 5 for 49, an effort all the more meritworthy for the fact that he played in both of Middlesex’s T20 matches on Saturday afternoon.
Finn is the leading wicket-taker in the country, with 29 wickets in five matches, but has undertaken a heavy workload, in the nets as well as in competition. He has bowled 172 overs in the Championship but has also spent many hours working to eradicate the technical problems that beset him in Australia and ultimately led him to be sent home early, his confidence at rock bottom.
Even with no Finn to contend with, Northamptonshire struggled. Beaten in three of their first four matches following promotion from the Second Division, they needed to make the most of favourable conditions, yet the tendency to give away wickets that has been their undoing so far was again an issue.
In a way, the biggest disappointment was that only one batsman made a half-century. Stephen Peters, the captain, had constructed a well-paced, 100-ball half-century to justify his decision to bat first on winning the toss, but succumbed to an error just as he was beginning to look as though he might make a hundred.
Having played two glorious strokes for consecutive fours through the offside against Roland-Jones, he saw another boundary for the taking when the next ball dropped in short. He went for the pull but top-edged the ball and found Roland-Jones had positioned Ravi Patel in just the right place on the square leg boundary.
David Sales wasted a good start, too, playing positively for his 43 but then driving loosely and in the air at a ball from Tim Murtagh. Chris Rogers took a good diving catch at extra cover but it was a chance he should not have had. Matthew Spriegel and Ben Duckett also brought about their own demise.
It was just as well that Andrew Hall and Ian Butler, the New Zealand bowler making his Championship debut, were able to fashion an eighth-wicket stand of 42, which at least gained a second batting point.