Cricket: Buchanan sows seed of success

Middlesex 204 and 450-4 dec Somerset 253 and 190 Middlesex win by 211 runs
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The Independent Online
MIDDLESEX were held up by another fine innings by Mark Lathwell, who made 88 to add to his 91 in the first innings, but he could not prevent the inevitable. Somerset started the day at 50 for six in their second innings and the last wicket fell 22 minutes after lunch when they had taken the score to 190, giving Middlesex victory by 211 runs.

There are new influences at work in the Middlesex dressing room. This is the first full year that Mark Ramprakash has been in charge and there has also been a change of coach for the first time for more then 20 years.

Following the fashion, Middlesex have gone antipodean and have appointed a Queenslander, John Buchanan, to succeed Don Bennett, who joined the staff as a player in 1948. His successor was appointed as Queensland coach in 1994 and has bought to their cricket an American-style professionalism which has had outstanding results and has been copied by other coaches - not only in Australia.

In 1994-95, Buchanan steered Queensland to their first ever Sheffield Shield title and to their second two years later. There must have been a considerable culture shock in the Middlesex dressing room these past few weeks. The old, familiar methods in time become too comfortable, no matter how much success they have brought, and towards the end of Bennett's term, Middlesex achieved less than they should have.

In such circumstances, a new broom can hardly help but antagonise in some quarters, and it will have taken the coach and the players a while to bed down together. From the available evidence, it appears that they are not only growing used to each other, but also that there is a measure of mutual respect. Middlesex have not been an impressive one-day side; last year, they lost all four of their Benson and Hedges qualifying matches; this year they have won all four.

In their Championship match against Somerset, they had the worse of the first two days but fought back in splendid fashion, led by another most determined Australian, Justin Langer. His 233 not out was a superb innings and the fact that five of his 20 first class hundreds have been double centuries tells of his resolve.

Buchanan has a number of talented young cricketers at his disposal and is determined they should have first-team cricket. Although Mike Gatting has become an institution at Lord's, at the age of almost 41 he will not figure large in the coach's thinking. David Nash and Owais Shah, who are Middlesex's and perhaps England's future, will. He will not have any hang- ups, either, in leaving left-arm spinner Phil Tufnell out of the side. Indeed, Tufnell had to wait until this game before he had his first bowl of the season, proving a difficult proposition to score off.

There is a new zest about Middlesex's cricket at the moment and it is surely Buchanan who has provided the missing ingredient. It will not be a surprise if he does what he did to Queensland and takes Middlesex to the Championship title in his first year at Lord's.

Somerset do not have the raw material they have at Lord's. But they have enough good cricketers to make sure they hold their own in mid-table. They are most unlikely to win a title but they will always be entertaining to watch, provided their batting does not panic as it did here on Friday evening.

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