Cricket: Double up for Gatting

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Leicestershire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .397 and 20-0

Middlesex. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .623-9 dec

FOR much of the summer so far, Middlesex have resembled County Champions in name only. The smooth, ruthless efficiency which took them to the title has been absent. They have not lost but they have not looked like winning.

This changed yesterday, not abruptly but relentlessly, as Leicestershire, standing an unlikely second in the table, were reminded of some enduring strengths. Not the least of these is the Middlesex captain, Mike Gatting. He turned his first Championship hundred of the season (though he had made 224 not out against England A) into the seventh double-century of his career.

It was neither flawless nor classical, but shot after shot bore his hallmark. The bearded, chubby cheeks were positioned, perfectly still, over the ample girth as the square boundary on the off-side and the mid-wicket boundary on the onside were regularly peppered. He was beaten occasionally - a thin inside edge early in the day looked especially fortuitous in avoiding a leg-before decision - but he was undisturbed. It was as if this was the most effective way Gatting could think of to tell his boys what was required of them. They listened, too.

Gatting and John Carr put on 199 in 55 overs for the fourth wicket. Carr was the more dynamic of the pair in the morning. The fifth wicket was worth 77, when Gatting was bowled, weary but still belligerent and seemingly fully intending to add to his 33 fours and two sixes from 366 balls. The sixth put on 81 and the ninth 62.

Keith Brown, who was on seven when put down off a straightforward chance to gully, made a perky little century and was there as the total rose from 401 to 623. Leicestershire had their only little flurry of the day when Peter Hepworth, their chief off-spinner in this match in Adrian Pierson's absence, took three wickets in five balls. This little spell suggested two things: that the rest of the Leicestershire bowling was fairly moderate; and that John Emburey might make still more of it.

There was not time to test the second proposition, but David Millns and Alan Mullally amply confirmed the first. Millns was a little too short too often, which Gatting liked, and Mullally, operating off a curtailed run with blistered toes, was clearly out of sorts, as was his length.

In an under-crowded market both have been talked of as deserving higher things, Millns for his pace, Mullally for his left-handed swing. It may have been an off-day, largely against a controversial batsman who has personified consistency in county cricket, but watching them yesterday was to wonder if this was not some isolated mountain-top where Test cricket is never played.

It may, too, have simply been a bad day for Leicestershire, who have played above themselves. But Nigel Briers, their captain, has gone on record to praise their newly rediscovered mental toughness. They will need to show it on Monday to save the match.