Cricket: Gatting takes a chance

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Surrey 425 and 230-3

Middlesex 350-5 dec

MIKE GATTING finally did something right yesterday by producing an imaginative declaration to breathe new life into a game which had been in danger of going nowhere.

He declared 75 runs behind Surrey's first-innings total as soon as Middlesex had earned their fourth batting point. Enterprising batting by Surrey then built an imposing lead to set up the prospect of an entertaining Middlesex run chase tomorrow. It should make for excellent Bank Holiday sport, particularly if the sun shines as it did yesterday.

Gatting had incurred some justified criticism by omitting John Emburey and Phil Tufnell, the two spinners who won the county championship for Middlesex last summer. He was apparently under the illusion that his motley crew of seamers, minus Angus Fraser and including Gordon Harris, a club bowler playing only his second game for the county, could duplicate Devon Malcolm's feats of last weekend on a track only two pitches away from the Test-match wicket.

Gatting as good as admitted his error by putting his other spinner, Paul Weekes, on after only nine overs while poor Harris never got on at all after first innings figures of nought for 83.

Not that Weekes could do much to restrain the rampant David Ward, promoted to No 3 to liven things up after Darren Bicknell was well caught by John Carr diving to his left at mid-on. Ward sized up the off- spinner and then took him apart, moving from 22 to 46 in the space of one over in which he hit two sixes and three fours. He reached his half-century in the next over off only 51 balls and continued in the same vein.

He rapidly overtook young Mark Butcher - himself no slouch - although Butcher eventually holed out with a gentle paddle to leg that came as a bit of an anti-climax. He and Ward had put on 113 in double quick time.

The dashing Ward followed him shortly afterwards, his 79 having occupied only 85 balls. Emburey and Tufnell might even thank the skipper for keeping them out of the firing line. By the close, Surrey were 305 ahead.

Earlier, Mark Ramprakash had batted with such grace that it seems inconceivable that he should be left out of the tour party to Australia. On 48 overnight, he moved to his fourth century of the season just after lunch, driving the Surrey bowlers through the offside with an elegance that recalled a bygone era.

Why couldn't he do this for England, for whom he scored just one half-century in 24 innings at an average of 16.69? It can be said that he has had his chances, but surely he deserves another one. It took his county captain, after all, 54 Test innings to make his maiden century, yet he is the one being tipped for the tour despite being 12 years older.

John Carr, in a rich seam of form this month, took his total in his last five innings to 531, only losing his wicket once. He must wish that August never ends.