Cricket: Gatting confirms end to glittering career

Gloucestershire 238 and 49-4 Middlesex 158
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The Independent Online
ALTHOUGH MIKE Smith took the first Middlesex wicket to fall, that of Richard Kettleborough before a run was on the board, he saved the best until last. Until then it had been the tireless Courtney Walsh who did most to ensure that the home side were never able to compete with Gloucestershire's first-innings total of 238.

Eventually, with three middle-order wickets to his name, Walsh took an early-evening break, as even he must do occasionally. As Smith marked out his run the West Indian pace bowler wound up a huge, mimed key in his colleague's back. It worked. Smith slanted his first ball across Keith Brown, and Martyn Ball took the catch at first slip. The third ball captured James Hewitt in the same way.

In his next over, Smith repeated the ball for Paul Weekes before thumping Angus Fraser's pads. He 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.

At this stage, on a seamer's track which was occasionally refreshed by autumn showers, all 20 wickets had been either bowled, lbw or caught behind. Smith's tally was 5 for 40, Walsh's 4 for 41.

Earlier in the day, two elder statesmen of world cricket had fought a dual in the autumn sun. One of them, Walsh, is not yet letting on whether he will still be around next year, while the other, Mike Gatting, rounded off play yesterday by officially announcing the end of a glorious career. After 25 years, including 14 seasons as Middlesex's captain, he will make his final first-class appearance at Lord's on Sunday in the AXA match with Gloucestershire, when a special presentation in his honour, planned before his decision to retire was made, will take place. Yesterday he was applauded to the wicket as though the crowd had already somehow received news of the announcement to follow.

Walsh himself is, as ever, taking his time over negotiations with Gloucestershire, the club he has adorned since 1984. At present he is approaching a more immediate milestone - he has 93 first-class wickets this season.

Gatting's landmark, already more distant, is now destined to remain unrealised - he is still six short of his century of centuries.

The last two balls of Gatting's innings summed up the contest between the two giants. Walsh dug one in short, and Gatting pivoted like a slim, young ballet dancer to find the square leg boundary. The next ball was even shorter, even faster. Gatting flinched in his attempt to repeat the stroke, and the ball looped to second slip. The day belonged to Smith and Gloucestershire, but this contest within a contest was one to savour.