Middlesex 172 and 96 for 3 (Higgins 3-16) lead Gloucestershire 201 (Higgins 61*, Roland-Jones 7-52) by 67 runs
Toby Roland-Jones claimed career-best bowling figures on day two of Middlesex’s County Championship game with Gloucester at Merchant Taylors’ School.
However, former Seaxe Ryan Higgins produced crucial contributions with bat and ball to leave the visitors still ahead of the game at stumps.
Roland-Jones turned back the clock to claim 7 for 52 as Gloucestershire were bowled out for 201, a score bolstered by Higgins’ combative 61 not out.
And the all-rounder, who left the Lord’s tenants at the end of the 2017 season, then took 3 for 16 to reduce the hosts to 96 for 3 in their second innings, a lead of just 67.
It had been almost three years since Roland-Jones had taken five wickets in an innings – the last occasion being the Seaxes famous last-day of the season championship-clinching win over Yorkshire.
A Test call-up followed and at the end of the 2017 season, the right-arm seamer was on the verge of an Ashes call-up – a dream ruined when he was diagnosed with a stress fracture of the back.
A winter’s rehab appeared to have done the trick only for him to break down again in just the second game of the 2018 campaign, so missing the rest of the season. He returned at the start of this season, but the early signs hadn’t been good – just five wickets at 101-apiece.
However, here Roland-Jones looked a man transformed, building on his two wickets on the first evening with three more in a devastating nine-ball mid-morning burst.
Sending Gloucestershire skipper Chris Dent’s off-stump cartwheeling backwards was the perfect fillip for a fast bowler in need of a change of fortune. As it turned out it was only the start.
The fourth ball of his next over saw Ben Charlesworth nick one into the hands of Middlesex skipper Dawid Malan at slip and Benny Howell, so often the scourge of the hosts, lasted just two balls before he edged another to the gloves of John Simpson.
Tim Murtagh, back in Middlesex colours after his international stint with Ireland, then removed the obdurate Gareth Roderick lbw for 40 make lunch that bit more indigestible for Dent’s side.
‘Ro-JO’ as he’s affectionately known wasn’t out of the action for long, returning early in the afternoon to have Graeme van Buuren brilliantly taken at first slip by Stevie Eskinazi, two-handed just millimetres from the floor.
When Tom Helm had David Payne caught at slip by Malan, Gloucestershire were still 27 in arrears, but Higgins struck six boundaries en route to an excellent fifty.
Josh Shaw proved a great ally in a ninth-wicket stand of 43, before Roland-Jones trapped him lbw to secure the amendment to his career stats.
By the time last man Chadd Sayers fell to Nathan Sowter for a duck, Higgins had secured a batting point – and he hadn’t finished haunting his former employers.
When the hosts began their second dig immediately after tea, Sam Robson and Eskinazi survived a testing period of playing and missing to wipe out the arrears with an opening stand of 53.
Higgins, though, took ball in hand to break the stand, finding the edge of Robson’s bat for Miles Hammond to snaffle the catch at slip.
One brought two as Higgins struck again soon afterwards, Eskinazi getting a thin edge through to wicketkeeper Roderick who was standing up to the stumps. And when Higgins bowled Gubbins in his next over Middlesex were back in trouble just 44 ahead.
Malan and George Scott dug in before fading light drove the players off seven overs early. An intriguing day three awaits.