Cricket: A most refined and civil war

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Middlesex 445-7 dec

Sussex 187-3

THERE we were, meandering through the endless road works on the A23, wondering how Ranji and Tate would have reacted to the imminent demise of the three-day game when another sign of the times suddenly hove into view. At the Queen's Head at Bolney, John Snow's local, the inn sign now carries a portrait of Freddie Mercury.

At Eaton Road, home of the oldest county club, modernity, however, remains very much at arm's length. The oft-publicised redevelopment appears to be no more than a mirage and the ground's endearing mustiness persists. So, less gratifyingly, does the unintelligible PA. There is, glory be, a kettle in the ramshackle press box, but reporters are obliged to arrange a rota for use of the two cups.

Until the mid-1980s, this fixture was an annual bank holiday affair, the Home Counties' answer to the Roses match, refined as opposed to rugged, a southern Cavalier to the northern Roundhead. That legacy was in evidence yesterday: bat dominant, progress leisurely, 44 overs before the first wicket, politesse rampant. Even the rain was mild. What frivolity there was came courtesy of Neil Williams and Angus Fraser, who heaved, hoicked and hacked 38 in seven overs before Middlesex declared, the ungainly Fraser having indicated how he once remained lucky enough for long enough to make 92 against Surrey. For Middlesex to retain their slender hopes of Championship booty, victory here is imperative, so a total exceeding 400 was not to be sniffed at.

Still, Jamie Hall and David Smith did their best with a workmanlike opening stand of 92 in which the first awkward moment was also Smith's last, a quicker one from John Emburey pinning him leg-before.

Although he, too, was eventually removed by the leading English wicket-taker, Hall was not so easily deceived, ultimately collecting a composed 81 in three and a half hours to accompany the county cap he was awarded during the lunch interval. One day, he will boast to his grandchildren of the time he mastered Emburey and Tufnell, omitting to mention, of course, that the pitch was even slower than the traffic on the A23.