Cricket: Gatting champions Middlesex's cause

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The Independent Online
Essex 148 and 153; Middlesex 167 and 135-3

Middlesex win by seven wickets

MIDDLESEX will shortly be pounds 47,500 richer for winning the 1993 County Championship, and a begging letter from the 1992 champions, Essex, may be through in the post before the ink is dry on the cheque. Middlesex's seven-wicket victory halfway through the scheduled four days has left a hole in Colchester Festival week, which Essex have totted up to pounds 15,000 in lost revenue. In the world of county cricket's parlous finances, that amounts to a year's wages for a player.

Middlesex will now win the championship if Northamptonshire fail to beat Leicestershire, and even if Northamptonshire take a maximum 72 points from their final three matches, Middlesex will do so in any event if they take a maximum of 12 points from their last two. It is all over bar the shouting, which Middlesex (who scarcely let a ball go by without orchestrated choruses of exhortation and self-congratulation) are champions of as well.

The championship pennant is not exactly a well-travelled piece of bunting, and will have gone to either Essex or Middlesex 11 times in the past 15 seasons. Middlesex are also only two matches away from becoming the first side since Hampshire in 1973, and only the third since the war, to complete an unbeaten season.

This was Middlesex's fifth win in three days or less, and any sympathy for the hole in Essex's pocket ought to be diluted by the fact that it was their own pitch that left them with 4,000 empty seats today and on Bank Holiday Monday. It seamed from the opening ball, and yesterday there was also a good deal in it for the spinners.

After 20 wickets had fallen on the opening day, Essex began their second innings 19 runs adrift yesterday morning, and it was a portent of things to come when their first runs off the bat came off the 28th delivery, when Graham Gooch edged Angus Fraser through the slips for four.

Gooch's next snick, a thinner one off Norman Cowans, resulted in a low catch to the wicketkeeper, Keith Brown, and Essex were 20 for 3 after Paul Prichard and Salim Malik were lbw to Cowans and Fraser respectively. John Stephenson's problems were illustrated by his total of eight singles off his first 53 balls. Stephenson then scored a two off his 54th, and got so carried away by this assault, that he spooned his 55th to mid off.

The only Essex resistance came from Nasser Hussain and Mike Garnham, who put on 63 for the fifth wicket before Garnham went leg before to Cowans. Hussain, who received an unplayable delivery from Philip Tufnell that turned and bounced off a length, batted two and a half hours for his 73, and his personal contribution to Essex's total of 301 runs in the match was 113. Sporting pitch it might have been, but one for the official TCCB inspector it was not.

Middlesex eventually required 135 from the day's final 33 overs, a target that looked a good deal less simple when Desmond Haynes and Mark Feltham (opening the innings because of a leg injury to Mike Roseberry) were both out in Stephenson's first two overs with the new ball.

However, Mike Gatting then launched John Childs back over his head for six and four, and with Gatting passing 50 in 60 balls, and 30,000 career runs, Middlesex got home with barely a bead of sweat.