Cricket: Gatting and Walsh in one last epic tussle

Gloucestershire 238 and 49-4 Middlesex 158
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LATE YESTERDAY evening Middlesex - above all Richard Johnson - struck back in a game that had been moving consistently Gloucestershire's way, nipping out four wickets and forcing the visitors to send out a second nightwatchman - with a runner, at that. Mike Smith, Gloucestershire's hero of late afternoon, was nursing a strained Achilles tendon. However, their 80-run advantage from the first innings could still prove decisive, particularly if Smith's soreness has eased overnight.

Smith took the first Middlesex wicket to fall, that of Richard Kettleborough, before a run was on the board, but he saved his best for last. Until then it had been the tireless Courtney Walsh who did most to keep the home side well short of Gloucester's first-innings total of 238.

Eventually, with three middle-order wickets to his name, Walsh took a break, as even he must do occasionally. The West Indian pace bowler cranked up a huge, mimed key in Smith's back, and it worked.

Smith's first and third balls slanted across to the slips, clipping the bats of Keith Brown and James Hewitt. In his next over he repeated the trick to Paul Weekes, before thumping Angus Fraser's pads. The left-armer had taken four wickets for no runs in 11 balls. This display revived Walsh, who reappeared at the Nursery End and proved a little too brisk for Phil Tufnell. By that stage, on a seamer's track which had occasionally been refreshed by autumn showers, all 20 wickets had been either bowled, lbw or caught behind. Smith finished the innings with figures of 5 for 40, with also Walsh weighing in with 4 for 41.

The afternoon was enlivened by a dual in the sun between two elder statesmen of world cricket, both of whom may be playing their last game at Lord's. Walsh, now with 93 first-class wickets this season, is as ever taking his time in contract negotiations with his county. Mike Gatting, six short of his century of centuries, was applauded to the wicket as if his retirement, announced yesterday in a statement by Middlesex, is official and irreversible. In fact, a presentation is to be made to him here on Sunday, and the best bet is that next year he will be second XI captain and coach, but available to the first team if necessary. So it seems that he is indeed retiring, but not quite.

The last two balls of Gatting's innings summed up this contest within a contest. Walsh dug one in short, and Gatting pivoted like a young, slim ballet dancer in sending it to the square leg boundary. The next ball was even shorter, even faster. Gatting flinched in his attempt to repeat the hook, and looped the ball to second slip. As befitting two giants of the game, it had been gladiatorial entertainment.