Middlesex were frustrated by a combination of bad light and lower-order resistance as Essex clung on for a draw in the Specsavers County Championship at Lord’s.
The champions were on course for their first win of the season when they reduced Essex, who were chasing a notional target of 452, to 130 for 7 in the first over after tea.
But eighth wicket pair Neil Wagner and Simon Harmer blunted Middlesex’s attack for 15 overs and as the light deteriorated home skipper James Franklin was forced to employ slow bowlers at both ends.
Leg spinner Dawid Malan immediately had Harmer (20) lbw as he tried to defend off the back foot but only two more overs were possible before umpires Ian Gould and Paul Baldwin took the players off for the third time in the day with 13 overs remaining, Essex 160 for 8 and Wagner unbeaten on 16.
It was harsh on Middlesex whose three-man seam attack, backed up by off-spinner Ollie Rayner, had chipped away all day on a wicket which hardly deteriorated, even though cloud cover did encourage the ball to swing.
Toby Roland-Jones finished with 3 for 42 and Steven Finn 2 for 39 while it was Rayner picked up former England captain Alastair Cook caught at short leg for 37 with his third delivery of the day. Cook had passed 20,000 first-class runs when he reached 16 and looked in the mood to repeat last week’s century in Essex’s win over Somerset, particularly when he drove first Tim Murtagh and then Roland-Jones back down the ground for four.
Apart from Cook, Essex’s main resistance came from Ravi Bopara (32) who dug in for just over two hours before he was seventh out in the first over after tea to a ball from Finn which jagged back sharply to knock back his off stump.
Conditions were as good as they had been all day at that stage but Harmer and Neil Wagner defied Finn and Roland-Jones for ten overs to give them their team the chance of escape.
Franklin had the luxury of runs on the board and enjoyed the happy knack of making bowling changes which brought immediate reward. Middlesex’s slip fielding was faultless too with Malan epitomising their catching performance when he dived to his left to remove Adam Wheater for a duck in the first over of a new spell from Roland-Jones.
Earlier, Essex had added 19 runs to their overnight 19 for 0 when Tim Murtagh made the breakthrough, bowling Nick Browne (19) through the gate.
Cook and Tom Westley took the score to 74 when Westley (13) was lbw to a ball from Roland-Jones that kept a touch low. Cook fell without addition to the total and after lunch Essex lost two wickets on 104 when Dan Lawrence (13) was held at slip driving at Finn before Wheater’s dismissal.
Ryan ten Doeschate (1) became Roland-Jones’ third victim but rain and bad light forced the teams off for an hour after a two-over stoppage during the morning. Bopara’s dismissal on the resumption left the Essex tail with 30 overs to survive but with a little help from the weather they were able to do so.
Middlesex picked up 12 points, Essex 8.