Cricket: Gatting rescues edgy start

Middlesex 307 & 124-3 Leicestershire 452
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The Independent Online
WHILE ALL their rivals were winning inside three days, Leicestershire could only battle on optimistically here yesterday, frustrated not only by their own mild pitch but by the shortcomings of some of their bowling.

It was one thing to bat on to lead by 145 runs with the aim of bowling out Middlesex a second time; it was another one entirely to do it, especially as batsmen of the quality of Justin Langer and Mike Gatting were always likely to make the most of these conditions.

So it proved. Although Middlesex made a calamitous start, losing David Goodchild and Mark Ramprakash without a run scored, Langer and Gatting dug in and, encouraged by some variable bowling, batted more positively than they probably dared hope possible under the circumstances.

After the trauma of their first innings, Middlesex desperately needed a solid start but it was not to be. David Millns had Goodchild picked up at slip off his third ball of the innings and, from the next, Ramprakash, getting only half-forward, was caught in front.

Even in a career stretching back to 1975, Gatting can rarely, if ever, have walked in facing a king pair and a hat-trick ball. Alas for Millns, he could not apply the basic principle of bowling a straight one and Gatting watched it go harmlessly by.

More than that, he soon found plenty of bowling which enabled him to unveil some of those familiar, resounding square-cuts and hooks. With Langer taking advantage of bowling that could be driven off the front foot or worked off his legs, Leicester's attack looked anything but menacing.

Langer has gone on record that in his first season in county cricket he has been tested by various new-ball attacks in contrasting conditions up and down the country. The difference, he found, came in the less penetrative support bowling, which was a factor when he compiled big scores early on.

He would have found nothing to make him revise those views here, initially at least. Leicestershire's chronic inability to bowl consistently on one side of the stumps offered ample opportunity for stroke play and the third- wicket pair put on 96 in 32 overs with few problems.

Langer had not missed much which could be punched firmly away between mid-on and mid-off until he was beaten by a ball from Phil Simmons which hit his off-stump.

Gatting reached 50 from 109 balls with eight fours, though, one run earlier, he narrowly escaped an embarrassing dismissal when he wandered out of his ground and saw the wicketkeeper, Paul Nixon, standing back, just miss with a throw at the stumps.