|Bob Willis Trophy, The Cloudfm County Ground (day two):|
|Middlesex 138 & 123-6: Holden 37; Beard 3-17|
|Essex 236: Wheater 83*; Andersson 4-38|
|Middlesex (3 pts) lead Essex (4 pts) by 25 runs|
Aaron Beard toppled the Middlesex top order after Adam Wheater’s chanceless 83 not out put Essex on course for the Bob Willis Trophy final.
Fast bowler Beard took three wickets in 21 balls after tea to leave Middlesex with their backs against the wall at the Cloudfm County Ground in Chelmsford.
The visitors did tip-toe into a lead but having ended the day on 123-6 – a slender lead of 25 – they will need an extraordinary effort from the tail to set Essex a tricky fourth-innings chase.
Earlier, Wheater posted a three-year high to give Essex a commanding first-innings lead of 98, as they pocketed four bonus points.
After 15 wickets had fallen on the opening day, batting seemed much easier for the most part on the day two.
Wheater used the friendlier conditions to his advantage with a mature innings, partnered well by Ryan ten Doeschate and Simon Harmer.
The home side’s morning, in which they lost just three wickets, was spoiled slightly by a back spasm suffered by ten Doeschate.
The Dutchman had seemingly run an innocuous single unharmed, but felt a problem while scratching out his guard.
He needed five minutes of treatment on the pitch before retiring hurt on 31, having put on 35 with Wheater.
Simon Harmer continued with Wheater and took Essex to a precious batting point.
It added to their three bowling points from the first day and, with Derbyshire’s batting woes, looks set to be the important point which will secure them a place at Lord’s later this month – if they win this match.
Wheater, who has not scored a first-class century since returning from a stint at Hampshire in 2016, cruised past a fifty in 76 balls.
He and Harmer put on 72 before Harmer was trapped lbw – the first of three quick wickets for Martin Andersson.
The fast bowler then had Beard and Sam Cook caught in the slips in the 62nd over to bring ten Doeschate back to the crease, albeit with Dan Lawrence as his runner.
The 40-year-old, who did not field, added 12 more runs to his early tally before he departed to hand Andersson another wicket as he returned figures of four for 38.
Jamie Porter was the final man to go, caught behind off Tim Murtagh (3-50) to leave Wheater stranded on his highest first-class county score since he reached 88 against Somerset in August 2017.
All eyes were now on the Bob Willis Trophy’s leading wicket-taker Harmer and whether he could spin his usual magic.
Instead it was the seamers, in particular Beard, who took centre stage from the Hayes Close End with incessant line and length consistency.
Cook was the first to pocket an early scalp as Sam Robson, on likely his final innings of the summer, pushed to Harmer at second slip.
Off-spinner Harmer, who was a threat throughout his 21 overs, picked up the wicket of Nick Gubbins after trapping him in front on the cusp of tea.
Beard then entered the attack and found pace to accompany his accuracy, demonstrated perfectly by sending Steve Eskinazi’s off-stump catapulting with a beautiful delivery.
Max Holden had provided a rearguard display of 37, which included a pulled six off Porter, but became Beard’s second victim when he also clean bowled.
Middlesex, still in arrears, were then 84 for five when Andersson edged Beard to second slip.
John Simpson and former Essex loanee Robbie White took their side into the lead with a 38-run partnership.
But Harmer returned for a second spell to pin White to set up a likely three-day finish.
Match report supplied by PA Media.