Middlesex found themselves having to work hard to avoid following on against Somerset during an attritional third day at Lord’s which ended with them on 311 for 7 in reply to the visitors’ 443 for 9 declared.
A calf muscle injury to Adam Voges is a potentially serious blow to Middlesex which marred the day for the champions. Voges, the 37-year-old former Australian Test batsman, had to be helped from the field and retire hurt after sustaining the damage to his right leg as he set off for the gentle legside single off Jamie Overton which took him to 86.
Peter Waxman, the Middlesex physio, said: “Adam has hurt his right calf but we will not know the extent of the injury until we can assess it over the next 24 hours. We’ll see how he is in the morning and then take it from there.”
Middlesex were 245 for 5 at the time, having lost Paul Stirling and John Simpson in quick succession either side of the second new ball, and Voges’ departure suddenly left them in a vulnerable position – especially as Toby Roland-Jones then edged Tim Groenewald to Steven Davies behind the stumps to go for 1 at 248 for 6.
But Ollie Rayner hit a robust 29 and joined Middlesex captain James Franklin in a stand of 42 which took them almost to the 294 they needed to avoid the follow on.
Rayner was bowled by the fiery Overton two balls after a break for bad light but Franklin then struck left-arm spinner Jack Leach for two fours in an over to take his side past the follow on target before bad light brought a further short delay. When play finally ended at 7.10pm, two overs early due to more poor light, Franklin had moved to 38 not out and secured a third batting bonus point for his side.
Voges and Stirling had put on 101 for the fourth wicket but it was Somerset, last year’s Specsavers County Championship runners-up, who enjoyed much the better of the day with a highly-disciplined bowling effort.
With Voges unlikely to be able to bat again in the match, Somerset would have fancied their chances of putting Middlesex under real pressure on the last day if they had split the Franklin-Rayner partnership earlier, but they could not do it on what is still a flat surface.
Morning session wickets for Groenewald, Lewis Gregory and Peter Trego initially reduced Middlesex from their overnight 42 without loss to 116 for 3 but Voges and Stirling, who was off the mark with a six slashed over cover off Josh Davey and later swung Gregory high over mid wicket for six in his 77-ball 52, then counter-attacked with a mixture of watchful defence and powerful strokes.
Stirling, however, after also hitting six fours, edged the pacy and impressive Overton to keeper Davies and, armed with the second new ball, Davey almost immediately produced another beauty to have John Simpson caught behind for 2. Then came the Voges injury, the Roland-Jones dismissal but, finally, the Franklin-Rayner alliance which looks as if it has made this game safe for Middlesex.
Earlier, opener Nick Gubbins completed a determined 56 but was out just before lunch when Trego moved one back into left-hander’s pads to have him lbw with one that also seemed to keep a little low.
Gubbins, resuming on 21, lost both his opening partner Nick Compton and No 3 Stevie Eskinazi in the morning’s first hour before Voges arrived to help add 52 for the third wicket.
Compton, who added just three runs to his overnight 19, was leg-before to a Groenewald off-cutter in the fifth over of the day and Eskinazi had made just 6 when he aimed a back foot offside force at Gregory, another of Somerset’s five seamers, and inside-edged into his own stumps.