SALVIDOR DALI was not known for his love of cricket yet he would surely have been won over had he witnessed the shadows cast by the Middlesex fielders amid a distinctly weird morning sunlight when play resumed yesterday. As a metaphor for John Emburey's Indian summer, the surreality of the scene was most appropriate. Time has certainly been soft on the man they call Knuckle.
Although the truncated Championship programme has rendered the traditional double an even more distant holy grail, Emburey's feats this season constitute the contemporary equivalent. Another six wickets yesterday expanded his bag to 64 at 20.47 runs apiece, this after the seventh first-class century of his career on Friday had swollen his crease output to 680 runs at 68. Mathematical considerations mean that Middlesex did not quite wrap up the pennant here, but there can be no question that the e e cummings of the sward has already sealed his nomination as county cricket's poet laureatte, namely the Britannic Assurance Player of the Year.
Emburey's initial contribution to the third day of this surprisingly one-sided contest was straightforward enough, Curtly Ambrose a disgruntled leg-before victim to a characteristically canny faster ball. Nick Cook was taken even further aback when he carved Emburey towards backward point, Phil Tufnell scampering in then diving for a fine one-handed catch.
For a side requiring victory to keep their own title aspirations afloat, Northamptonshire's performance here was both unimaginative and uninspired. Brainless too, at times, most notoriously when Kevin Curran gave Tufnell the charge first ball during the follow-on to be stumped by the proverbial street. Rob Bailey, though, proved a noble excpetion, and when Paul Taylor hoisted Norman Cowan's to mid-on he was still firmly entrenched, five short of a richly merited hundred after nigh on six hours' assiduous occupation.
So onerous had been the responsibility thrust upon the vice-captain's shoulders by the misdeeds of others that that customary bruising stroke play was rarely in evidence, replaced by a caution that at one juncture failed to produce a boundary for fully 72 overs. Mike Gatting's congratulatory handshake as he trudged off was nonetheless deserved.
Not that Bailey was able to put his feet up for long, five balls to be precise. Alan Fordham opened his account with an edge through the cordon off Cowans, who promptly bowled him with a scuttler. Patience sorely tested, Bailey at last shrugged aside that careworn expression with a stream of fours. Cowans completed a useful double by snaring Nigel Felton with another full-length effort. In each innings the Middlesex beneficiary disposed of both openers for a combined return of 23 runs. How easy it is to forget that no active England-qualified bowler can better his 629 first-class wickets at 25.
Allan Lamb and Mal Loye provided some respite in a stand of 77 but the last seven wickets ebbed away in 17 overs, the day's sole vestige of drama being reserved for the last rites. Mike Roseberry retired hurt after being struck on the forearm by Taylor's third delivery, whereupon Desmond Haynes drove the next two to the ropes then glanced the winning single.
It was Emburey, fittingly, who had unglued Bailey, albeit freakishly, a solid prod looping off John Carr's boot at short-leg for the same fielder to accept the rebound. Dali would doubtless have approved of that too.
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