Nick Gubbins defied Yorkshire’s five-man seam attack with a battling 120 not out at Lord’s to guide Middlesex to 208 for 5 on the opening day of the potential Specsavers County Championship title decider between the top two in Division One.
Gubbins, the 22-year-old left-hander, reached his fourth championship hundred of the season by pulling Ryan Sidebottom for six into the Grand Stand and an unbroken sixth wicket stand of 54 with James Franklin, who is 21 not out, had tilted the first skirmishes of what promises to be a fascinating contest Middlesex’s way before bad light lopped 14 overs from the final hour’s play.
Yorkshire took the early honours after an uncontested toss, their decision to bowl first vindicated when Middlesex slid to 57 for 3 with Jack Brooks taking 2 for 22 in a probing new ball spell in overcast conditions.
But Gubbins led the fightback and there was a big moment in the day just before tea when Franklin, on 1, was badly missed by Gary Ballance at third slip off an unlucky Tim Bresnan.
After the interval, on 96, Gubbins looked to have tickled a legside catch to the keeper off Sidebottom, but umpire Rob Bailey turned down Yorkshire appeals.
Yorkshire only had themselves to blame, though, for letting Gubbins get that far.
On 22, with Middlesex’s total 53, Gubbins was also dropped at point by Azeem Rafiq, who leapt to try to claw down a square cut at Steven Patterson but could not cling on.
Earlier, Brooks sent back Sam Robson and Nick Compton in his new ball burst, before David Willey held his nerve against Dawid Malan to bowl the aggressive left-hander off an inside edge for 22.
Opener Gubbins, unfortunate not to be selected for England’s winter Test tours after a prolific season in championship cricket in which he has now topped 1300 runs, fought hard to hold Middlesex’s first innings together while both Stevie Eskinazi and then John Simpson hung on with him for a while on a pitch offering occasional low bounce.
Eskinazi played on to the impressive Brooks for 12 and Simpson’s innings of 15 ended when he shouldered arms to an inswinger from Bresnan which pinned him palpably in front. Brooks ended the first day with 3 for 45.
Robson had been leg-before for a duck in Brooks’ fourth over from the Nursery End, beaten by a full ball angled into him. Compton was also lbw, for 8, offering no stroke to a ball from Brooks which nipped back up the Lord’s slope.
Malan greeted Willey’s introduction by hitting four fours and a two from the first seven balls he faced from the left-arm seamer, but perished when he aimed one expansive off drive too many. Willey, whose first over cost 15 runs, ended up with creditable figures of 1 for 25 from his initial six-over spell.
Rafiq’s off breaks were not introduced until the 56th over and he bowled only a handful of overs before Yorkshire took the second new ball immediately it was due. Two overs later, however, bad light intervened with MCC not allowed to use the Lord’s floodlights because of an agreement with the local council limiting the number of times they can be switched on in a season.
That means, in essence, that floodlights cannot be used in any championship fixture on the ground.
Yorkshire, who are in second place, nine points behind Middlesex, need to win to preserve their hopes of a hat-trick of titles.
But both teams could be pipped by third-placed Somerset, who have won the toss and elected to bat in their final game against Notts at Taunton.
Yorkshire have left out batsman Jack Leaning and pace bowler Liam Plunkett from their 13-man squad.
Middlesex: Robson, Gubbins, Compton, Eskinazi, Malan, Franklin (captain), Simpson, Rayner, Roland-Jones, Murtagh, Finn.
Yorkshire: Lyth, Lees, Ballance, Gale (captain), Bresnan, Hodd, Willey, Rafiq, Patterson, Brooks, Sidebottom.