Cricket: Gerrard jigs, Middlesex reel: Gloucestershire 299; Middlesex 180

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The Independent Online
THESE are early days, and pretty miserable ones, too, for batsmen here at the County Ground. While four- day cricket appears to provide a great opportunity for nodding off with a scoring rate of around two an over, there is nothing like the clatter of wickets to get people sitting up again and paying attention.

Angus Fraser had set the trend in helping to finish off Gloucestershire for under 300 first thing yesterday. Then, after Mike Gatting and Mark Ramprakash had woken spectators from their post-lunch slumbers with some exciting strokeplay in adding 66 for the third wicket, Martin Gerrard and Kevin Cooper shared eight wickets as Middlesex crashed out on a deficit of 119.

First to Fraser. Last season he was struggling to deliver thanks to a nagging hip injury, but he saw a specialist in the winter and the seamer appears to be back in business. Of a quick return for England, however, he is not talking up his chances.

'We'll just have to see,' he said, which is sensible. But he looks comfortable in the delivery stride and did enough in the Gloucestershire first innings to suggest he might not be lost to international cricket for ever. English fingers should be crossed.

Fraser had three dismissals to his name from 22 overs overnight and there was an opportunity for him to pick off the last two Gloucestershire wickets in morning mist. It would have given him his first five-wicket haul since he took 6 for 82 against Australia in Melbourne in 1990.

It was on that tour that the Fraser hip began to give him gip, but now loosened up and in his fourth over of the day, he sent back Cooper thanks to a fine diving catch from John Carr at second slip. Fraser also removed Gerrard.

The trouble was that Mark Feltham was the bowler, Fraser running in from third man to gather a skier from the outside of Gerrard's bat. So Fraser finished with 4 for 76 and it was the bowlers who continued to prosper in conditions that encouraged movement.

Gerrard and Mike Smith, both left-arm seamers, have been to see John Lever, the former Essex maestro of the art. Smith accounted for Mike Roseberry and Matthew Keech, while Gerrard whistled out Gatting, Ramprakash, Carr and Feltham - 4 for 16 in 51 deliveries to improve upon his previous best in the Championship of 2 for 25 against Sussex two years ago. As for Cooper (4 for 34), he wrapped up the tail as Middlesex lost their last eight wickets for 38.