Middlesex closing in on promotion
Middlesex took a massive step closer to promotion by claiming maximum batting bonus points on the second day of their LV= County Championship Division Two game against Leicestershire at Grace Road.
Top-of-the-table Middlesex reached stumps on 401 for eight and now needed just to avoid defeat to book their place in Division One next season.
A fine knock of 97 from Dawid Malan and half-centuries for John Simpson and Gareth Berg were the bedrock of the total that put Middlesex on the brink of promotion with Northamptonshire managing only three batting points against Gloucestershire.
There were times, however, when the nerves kicked in for Middlesex and at 320 for eight in the 85th over they were by no means certain of reaching the 350 total required to collect a fourth batting point.
But Berg, joined by Tim Murtagh, safely saw them pass that mark and then the pair cut loose, adding another 50 runs in the next five overs to leave Middlesex in a powerful position with a lead of 82 at the close of play.
Berg finished on 70 not out from 81 balls having hit three sixes and five fours as the Leicestershire attack toiled in the evening session.
Only off-spinner Jigar Naik, who picked up three wickets, really troubled the Middlesex batsmen who were in control for much of the day.
Andrew Strauss and Sam Robson gave them a solid start with an opening stand of 75. Strauss, who survived a confident lbw appeal from Nathan Buck before he had scored, looked in good touch and the partnership produced 50 in nine overs.
A 30-minute rain interruption stopped the flow of runs and Strauss was out on the resumption, caught behind by Ned Eckersley for 32 off the bowling of Alex Wyatt.
Robson then edged the same bowler to wicketkeeper Eckersley for 46 but Chris Rogers and Malan shared a third-wicket stand of 71 in 22 overs to give Middlesex command again.
But when Rogers and Jamie Dalrymple were both dismissed by successive deliveries from Naik, Middlesex looked in some trouble again.
Malan, however, continued to play some fine shots against some loose bowling from the Leicestershire seamers, reaching his 50 off just 59 balls.
The 200 total came up via the 31st boundary of the innings with Malan clipping Rob Taylor away to the ropes.
But, with a century looking certain Malan was out for 97 off 142 balls, caught behind as he chased a wide delivery from Wayne White.
Simpson steadied things again, scoring a half-century off 86 balls before top-edging a catch off Taylor and, when Ollie Rayner and Steven Crook both fell cheaply, Middlesex looked to be stumbling in their bid for the prize.
But Berg and Murtagh regained the initiative and by the close the visitors were in a commanding position with every chance of achieving the double over the bottom-of-the-table hosts.