Cricket: Gatting enjoys a double helping

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England A 357 and 48-0; Middlesex 156 and 394-4. Match drawn

THE pristine white helmet may have deceived some; so, too, the measured, at times almost deferential, strokes. In all other senses, however, there was no mistaking the fact that Mike Gatting's appetite for runs and recognition remains as hearty as it once was for cheese and pickle sandwiches.

By compiling an unbeaten 224, the 77th first-class century of his career and his sixth double, the walking teapot did not merely save the depleted county champions from defeat yesterday. In a contest whose sole raison d'etre lay in convincing the new chairman of selectors of the depth of young talent at England's disposal, Gatting vindicated Ray Illingworth's assertion that the old dogs have not yet had their day.

Ironically, it was John Crawley, Gatting's chief rival for a berth in the middle order, who did him the most favours. Having floored a chance in the covers on Saturday when the Middlesex captain had made 36, Crawley spilled a stinging cut at point when he was on 146.

Those moments aside, though, it was a near-flawless innings highly attuned to personal and collective requirements. Illingworth left before the end of this 443-minute 35-boundary residence, but then he is unlikely to have learned anything new. For his part, Gatting said he had no need to be reminded he was still in the starting stalls.

The other century-maker was John Carr, a workmanlike foil in a fourth-wicket stand worth 288 in 87 overs. Barring a few rousing leg-before shouts from the persistent and economical Mark Ilott, so dictatorial was the rule of bat that when Carr finally lost his off-stump to Robert Croft, the tea hooter had long since sounded.

Given Crawley and Darren Bicknell's untroubled progress in the 16 overs sent down after Gatting's token declaration, this meant the day's 95 overs had yielded but one wicket. On that score, Illingworth will not have been overly impressed.