Essex 422-6 dec
THE problem with civilisation in decline is that you cannot take your eye off it for a moment. I had my suspicions, when I saw the Prime Minister at Lord's early in the Test match, that England could be in line for another major disaster. Even so, coming down from a Scottish mountain several days later I did not expect to learn that the cream of England's cricketers had been blown away like cream puffs at a garden party. Or that the England captain was facing the kind of dilemma that makes Wittgenstein's dog look like a duck.
Events here yesterday were somewhat akin to a garden party, what with marquees, summer dresses, shirtsleeves, a raffle and occasional sideshows. Some of England's leading cricketers were on display, puffing away in the soaring temperatures, and with the bat in the ascendant over the ball there was plenty of entertainment for the spectators. Quite what its purpose was apropos of the state of the national side is another matter.
Graham Gooch began the day requiring 18 runs for his sixth hundred of the season and was 78 minutes scoring them. Perhaps the early dismissal of Jonathan Lewis, and a follow-on target of 376, were justification for the Essex captain's caution. None the less, it was a strange start on a pitch that had already produced hundreds by Mike Gatting and Mark Ramprakash and would see two more from Gooch and Ronnie Irani before Essex declared at tea, 103 runs in arrears.
Equally bizarre was the state of Irani's left eye, blackened, it was alleged, in an altercation with a member of the public on Friday evening. Not that this affected the way Irani batted, for in his upright way he elegantly stroked the second hundred of his career - both of them for Essex this summer since he joined them from Lancashire.
Certainly Irani lost nothing in comparison to Gooch as they added 112 runs for the fifth wicket in 40 overs. However all previous batting was overshadowed by Desmond Haynes's brilliant batsmanship which lit up the last session as Middlesex increased their lead to 278. Haynes hit 10 fours in reaching 50 and there were 18 fours in all as he raced to his century off 103 balls. Whether chopping fast bowlers off his eyebrows or driving them through the covers, he struck the ball with a fearsome ferocity.
It took Gooch 49 balls in the morning to reach his century, his 112th in all, though he required only six scoring strokes, late cutting and sweeping boundaries in between becalmed periods. Once into three figures, he set about the bowling more vigorously, and his six off John Emburey, high towards the trees bordering Gatting Way, was scarcely the way to greet an old friend.
Emburey conceded 26 runs in five overs before Gatting settled on Phil Tufnell and Paul Weekes as his spin combination. There seemed no reason why Gooch would not go on to a double hundred, but looking to dab Weekes's off-spin through the gully he played on.
By this time Irani was well set for his own hundred, reached in the over before tea off 220 balls including 16 fours. He stood to his full height when driving, timing the ball with a sweetly languid swing of the bat, and he swept Tufnell with an ease that should have had the England slow left armer reconsidering his line. A half- chance to slip when 20, and a more definite one to leg slip at 45, both to Gatting off Weekes, were minor blemishes in a display matched in entertainment value by Mike Garnham in a brief stay.