Cricket: Gatting in historic mood

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The Independent Online
Middlesex 174-0 v Essex

THERE WERE a couple of notable landmarks here at the Walker Cricket Ground, despite history having been put on temporary hold because of the rain.

When the players walked out almost three hours late it marked the first County Championship match to be staged on this picturesque north-London ground. There had been a first-class match here in 1859 and on that occasion Middlesex, with a certain John Wisden in their line-up, beat Kent. Southgate may not have featured in Middlesex's plans in the past, but there is every chance that it will in future, after what the county achieved yesterday, and indeed their NatWest Trophy second tie against Durham is to be staged here on 8 July.

Anyway, some 139 years after that opening first-class fixture another milestone was reached. It happened off the last ball of the fourth over. The two runs Mike Gatting scored to get off the mark took his run tally to 27,613 and into second place in Middlesex's all-time list of run-scorers, ahead of J W "Jack" Hearne, but some way adrift of Patsy Hendren's monumental 40,302.

By the close Gatting had added a further 91 as he moved inexorably towards three figures. He has made no secret of the fact that he would like to reach a 100 hundreds before he retires, probably at the end of this season; in his present form No 93 does not look too far away.

However, Gatting took a while to settle into his stride. Much of the early running was made by his partner, Justin Langer, who had his share of luck. A sliced catch to Paul Prichard in the gulley was missed and just to heighten the agony, the ball continued to the boundary for the first of the Australian left-hander's nine fours.

Essex were certainly made to pay for that miss, but even before they had taken the field it was clear that it was not going to be their day when it emerged that Nasser Hussain had had to pull out, the England batsman suffering from a trapped nerve in his back.

Langer and Gatting, who was opening the innings for the first time in a very long time in a first-class game, made it look very easy as they put on Middlesex's first century opening stand of the season in the Championship.

Langer was the livelier of the two early on, and was the first to reach his fifty - the seventh time he has passed the mark this season, three times going on to a hundred. But by the close, he was trailing behind Gatting, who was seven runs short of his first century of the season, having hit 14 boundaries.