Brilliant Jones century leads Lancs fightback
There are moments in games that will live with you forever and those of us at Emirates Old Trafford today were fortunate to witness such a moment when Rob Jones, in only his third Championship game and on 94 not out, advanced down the wicket to a delivery from Middlesex spinner Ollie Rayner.
The 20 year-old hit the ball high towards long-on where a fielder waited, positioned on the boundary for a possible catch, and for a moment everyone held their breath. Would the ball carry for six, and thus seal Jones’ century, or not?
It did, and the ground erupted with Jones adding his own unforgettable celebration. Words can scarcely do it justice, but look up the video on our You Tube channel. It will be worth it!
What made Jones’ maiden first-class century so special were the circumstances in which it was made. From the despair of 6-4 and 32-5 yesterday, thoughts of getting anywhere near to Middlesex’s first innings total of 327 would have seemed far-fetched twenty four earlier.
Nobody however had told Jones-or Liam Livingstone and Tom Bailey for that matter-with the latter pair providing outstanding support throughout the morning and afternoon's play.
Resuming the Lancashire innings on 102-5, Jones and Livingstone had started cautiously with just 11 runs scored in the first 7 overs today and that included an all-run four by Livingstone.
A run-less 15 minutes early on was punctuated by two drives to the long-on boundary by Jones, who started today on 42 not out, the second one off Rayner bringing up his maiden first-class half century off 151 balls.
The century partnership followed soon afterwards, the 235 balls taken an indication of the determination and resilience shown by the Red Rose pair as they repaired the innings.
Livingstone reached his half century by guiding a Steven Finn delivery to the vacant third man boundary, but the bowler had instant revenge when the batsman edged the next ball to Rayner at slip after making 53 to leave Lancashire on 138-6 and still 40 runs away from saving the follow-on.
That proved to be the only wicket to fall in the morning session as Bailey joined forces with Jones to continue the fightback as the pair slowly edged their way towards safety, although Jones’ immediate response was to hit Rayner for six over long-on!
By lunch the pair had added thirty runs to leave the Red Rose on 168-6 and after the break Jones and Bailey defended stoutly to resist the Championship leaders' attack, 5 runs arriving in first 30 minutes of the afternoon as they patiently whittled away at the visitor’s lead.
The follow-on target was soon passed with Bailey reaching his highest first-class score when on 38 after pulling a Murtagh bouncer for 4 before repeating the shot next ball! He then went to his maiden first-class fifty with a top edge high over the slips to the third man boundary before edging Finn to Sam Robson at first slip for an excellent 53 having helped add 92 runs for the 7th wicket.
Finn then struck with his next ball, Kyle Jarvis edging to Nick Compton at third slip but Simon Kerrigan lent support to help Jones reach his three figure milestone and add a second batting point which also saw Lancashire climb above Warwickshire in the Championship table.
Kerrigan departed lbw to Finn for 10, the bowler finishing with 4-71, and Toby Lester was bowled by Rayner for 1 as Lancashire ended their first innings 257 all out.
Jones departed to a standing ovation for his 106 not out, only the eighth time in 81 years that a Lancashire player has ‘carried his bat’, and the 20 year-old is the youngest to do so since Cyril Washbrook in 1935.
Jones was so steadfast in defence yet ready to attack when necessary, it was hard at times to remember this was an emergency opener playing in his third-ever game and thrust up to open the batting due to injuries to other players. His concentration during his 403 minute innings spread over the two days was remarkable.
The Lancashire innings had ended on the stroke of tea and Middlesex lost early wickets as they attempted to build on their 68 run lead.
Nick Gubbings edged Jarvis to Livingstone at first slip and Kerrigan then took a remarkable 3-3 with Robson, Compton and Eskinazi all lbw to leave the visitors on 55-4.
Dawid Malan (20 not out) and John Simpson (7 not out) steadied matters to take Middlesex through to the close on 72-4 with a lead of 140 runs and the match intriguingly poised going into the final day.
However today was undoubtedly Rob Jones’ day. He resumed on 42 not out this morning with the initial goal of batting as long as possible.
“We spoke about trying to bat the whole day,” he said. “Sometimes it was quite attritional but we just concentrated on trying to get the job done.
“I thought Livvy batted brilliantly and so did Bails as well. We stuck at the task really well and it’s been a great team day.
“It’s quite a tough ask to build from 6-4 so you just stay in your bubble. It doesn’t matter how many balls you face at times. Dot balls are fine at that stage and you just have to soak up that pressure.
“You still have to have a positive attitude in that situation, be ready to put the bad balls away and block the good ones and I thought Middlesex bowled brilliantly last night. They’re a great attack and that’s why they are top of the league.
Jones revealed he had some good advice from Mark Chilton during the lunch interval about his approach as his century neared.
“He told me to just take it ball by ball. Treat it as just a number and focus on the next ball. Although it was at the back of my mind, I was thinking more about what does the team need. That was my main goal.
Then, having made 94, came that special moment, although Jones admitted he “held his breath” for a moment after hitting Rayner towards long-on.
“I’d made my mind up I didn’t want to try and get them in ones and twos. Also we were eight down so I thought I’d try and get them as quick as I can,” he explained.
“It happened to be the ball (to go for), and it just fell into place. I middled it and it went for six!
It was quite a celebration that followed, and the 20 year-old laughed at the memory.
“It was a pretty special moment,” he grinned.” I went to the non striker’s end because it’s a superstition I have, and then I just ran. It probably looked a bit stupid! It’s just a routine I do and I’ll probably carry on doing it now!
“Words can’t really describe how I feel at the moment. That was seriously pretty special. I can’t really believe what I’ve done today and everything is just a bit of blur!
“I’ve got to be ready to go again tomorrow. That’s the job, you need to be consistent. It’s a new day, you’ve got to get back in the nets and go again.
“But I’ll enjoy tonight and savour this moment because it’s pretty special.
Photos (c) Simon Pendrigh