AFTER dismissing Sussex for 161 on the first day, Middlesex had all the time they wanted to press home their advantage in conditions which were rather easier for batting yesterday. Led by Desmond Haynes and Mike Gatting, in his first Championship innings after taking on that dressing-room door, Middlesex had reached 258 for 5 by the end of the second which saw 14 overs lost to the weather.
Although there seems to be no good reason to expect the pitch to get any worse, the Sussex batting hardly filled one with confidence on Thursday and, weather permitting, Middlesex are comfortably placed to win.
This was an important innings for Gatting with the side for the first Test to be picked on Sunday evening. After a careful start, he was in pretty good form, although the selectors may still decide that he needs to play a few more innings before they can be sure they are right to bring him back.
Gatting was lucky to have Haynes soldiering on as he seems to do just about every time he goes to the crease. There is no fuss to his batting, just a cool head, a most competent technique and his very presence at the other end can only help take the pressure off his colleagues.
For Middlesex this was a day at first of solid endeavour against seam bowling which was never as dangerous as their own on the first day. Alan Wells will again have pondered on his decision to bat first.
The only real spice was provided by the splendid leg-spin of Ian Salisbury. In the morning he toiled without luck, keeping the ball well up to the bat and inviting the batsmen to drive. Of course, Haynes and Gatting did so well enough but from time to time he found the edge with his leg-break or beat them in the air with flight. It was a tantalising contest. The danger is that with Salisbury as one of his main strike weapons, Alan Wells will over- bowl him. When this happens to a wrist spinner the danger is that he will gradually sacrifice spin for accuracy and turn into a stock bowler.
Salisbury took two significant wickets. First, Mark Ramprakash was lbw sweeping and stayed long enough to show that he disagreed with the decision. Batsmen appear to think that coming forward to sweep grants them immunity from an lbw decision and it is surely no bad thing for batsmen occasionally to realise that this is not so. It might even tempt them to try to hit straight.
Salisbury's second wicket came after tea when Gatting set off down the pitch to a ball which was quicker, maybe a top spinner, drove all round it and was bowled.
Otherwise, Mike Roseberry got a glove to a lifter soon after the start, Haynes was eventually caught off the leading edge while essaying a shot to leg and, after four delightful legside strokes, John Carr drove tamely to cover.
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