Cricket / County Championship: Gatting in command

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Yorkshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .256 and 110-4

Middlesex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .439-5 dec

MARK RAMPRAKASH and Mike Gatting, Middlesex's third- wicket pair, raised 321 in just 82 overs on this slow but now dry pitch, establishing an iron control which was extended by the capture of four Yorkshire wickets after a tea-time declaration 183 runs ahead.

If, as expected, Middlesex win here and then defeat Northamptonshire at Lord's next week, they will take their seventh Championship since the war and possibly their easiest.

In the days when English cricket was strong, in the 1930s and 1960s, this Middlesex team would have been recognised as competent, led with zest and some acumen. They would probably have finished somewhere around seventh.

In 1993 the general standard of first-class cricket in England is somewhere between appalling and abysmal. Much newsprint has been used debating cause and consequence but until this decline is reversed there will be no successful England team.

The first-class game has to be given the priority. A week from now the summer could be over for all but the NatWest finalists. The Championship would be enhanced, in terms of both media attention and finance, by a play-off among the top eight clubs, but how to make room? Drop a one- day competition, preferably the Sunday League.

Yorkshire at present would probably be grateful for a place in the Beazer Homes League. It was their palsied batting on Thursday that first got them into this mess and yesterday, on another sunny, breezy seaside morning, the metropolitans built the castles while the Tykes did the donkey-work.

Gatting (28 fours and a six in his 182) and Ramprakash (15 fours and a six in his 140) were in total command, happy to wait for the bad ball, which duly arrived at least once an over. Gatting's timing of the late cut was superb; he took the ball so late he appeared to be guiding it between off and middle stumps.

During a cooler afternoon the pair plundered Yorkshire like old, bold mates of Henry Morgan. Both eventually surrendered in the mad dash for the declaration.

Angus Fraser then added to his 4 for 25 of the first innings by mauling the second with a burst of three wickets in 10 balls.

He had Paul Grayson caught at slip, threw himself to take a low return catch from Richie Richardson and then yorked David Byas. Keith Brown, the Middlesex wicketkeeper, says the seamer England have missed so much is back to his best form. Richard Blakey played on while Martyn Moxon, who hit eight fours in his fifty, passed 1,000 runs for the season.