Cricket: Exuberant Tufnell: Rob Steen reports from Lord's

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Middlesex 366 and 12-0; Durham 232

LESS THAN 18 months ago, Phil Tufnell and Angus Fraser were sitting comfortably among the England fixtures and fittings. The extent to which their paths have since diverged was encapsulated rather cruelly here yesterday as each continued his rehabilitation.

In a fluid spell of 29 overs interrupted only by lunch, Tufnell's languid loop claimed four victims on a user-friendly pitch, enhancing Middlesex's visions of a first home win of the summer and all but rubber-stamping the bowler's Test comeback at the Oval following an appendectomy. Fraser, meanwhile, trudged about at third man until the 76th over before becoming the sixth bowler used.

Yet Fraser it was who achieved a much-needed breach by trapping Simon Hughes, thus apparently terminating an unlikely escape plot that had seen Phil Berry and the former Middlesex bowler add 89 in 35 overs after Tufnell and John Emburey had lured the visitors into a pit of 101 for 7, still 265 behind.

After completing a career-best 7 for 113 before noon, Berry nevertheless refused to give up the ghost with a further 27 required to avert the follow-on and David Graveney's fitness to bat uncertain. Mixing rigorous defence with some enterprising blows, notably a six on to the Grandstand balcony off Tufnell, the erstwhile Yorkshire off-spinner acquired a maiden 50 and the horse had bolted by the time Tufnell did for Simon Brown.

This just about summed up Middlesex's Championship season. With 87 points and 12 places now separating the ante-post favourites, it seems reasonable to wonder why Essex have fulfilled expectations while theirs have fallen so woefully short.

Ricardo Ellcock's retirement, Norman Cowan's persistent groin problems and Fraser's sluggish recovery, have combined to supply the most obvious alibi, namely an improverished seam attack that has allowed opponents to wriggle free when pinned to the ropes. A secondary factor has been the insistence on handing the gloves to Keith Brown, a decided liability behind the stumps. Two missed stumpings and a dropped catch here merely underlined the folly of ignoring the gifted Paul Farbrace and treating Alec Stewart as a role model instead of an exception.