Sam Robson stroked the first ball of the 2021 season through mid-off for four, had 13 from his first nine balls and, frankly, never looked back.
By the time he became the seventh Middlesex wicket to fall, becoming the second of Lewis Gregory’s three wickets with the second new ball under lights, he had 165 – from 263 balls – of his team’s 263 runs. When stumps were drawn 13 overs – with the full 96 bowled, slightly surprising in the conditions – they had moved on to 293 for eight, a decent day’s work.
Robson made things look far easier than they were. It was no day for batting, and both captains were desperate to bowl at the toss – as so many are when the season begins as early as April 8 (around the country, just three of nine toss winners chose to bat, and 26 wickets fell before lunch).
The start was slightly delayed by rain, temperature barely passed 10 degrees all day in north-west London, and no other batsmen made more than captain Stevie Eskinazi’s 22. Against a strong Somerset attack, Robson was in a class of his own, on his way to his highest score for five years, when he made a double-century against Warwickshire, also in the opening match of the season.
Max Holden also stroked his first ball through the offside for four, but soon plopped into the offside off Josh Davey, who also picked up Nick Gubbins, who was the only batsman to look nearly as fluent as Robson after a nervy start.
Eskinazi settled into a stand of 80 either side of lunch, before becoming Gregory’s first (he finished with four for 54), and Robbie White followed up with a partnership of 55, before becoming falling to Jack Leach, who took the first wicket of spin of the season. Martin Andersson and John Simpson stuck with Robson across 19 overs until the new ball, but did not score many.
In each of these partnerships, Robson was the senior partner as Middlesex built a score. The other batsman was simply getting him on strike. With the flick off the pads productive, and the cut and cover-drive seen regularly too, all the Robson staples were on show. Word was that he was in fine form in preseason; even he cannot have expected to come this good, this soon. There were a couple of blemishes – he was dropped in the cordon on 23 and 47 – but he made Somerset pay, and passed 10,000 first-class runs in the course of his mammoth knock.
It may be that James Vince’s was the most eye-catching – and indeed bigger – century of the season’s opening day, but Robson’s was the first, and a very special effort indeed. This was not a bad opening day for a top-heavy Middlesex batting order and, for that, they had him to thank.