Cricket: Hail prolongs Sussex farewell

COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP: Middlesex held up by the weather as Northamptonshi re run into stiff resistance Middlesex 490-9 dec Sussex 187 and 6-0
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Only the weather can surely deny Middlesex now, after Sussex's capitulation at Lord's. Bowled out for 187, they are 297 runs behind on a pitch still offering help to pace and seam. Indeed only a spectacular hailstorm, that turned the outfield white, prevented them sustaining further losses in their second innings and they face a testing time if they are to prevent recent criticism turning to ridicule.

It is never wise to draw sweeping conclusions this early in the season. For one thing limbs are stiff and pitches invariably green and tricky to bat upon. Nevertheless, on the evidence of this match, it will take more good fortune than can be found in a gross of Chinese cookies if Sussex are to make more than a passing impression this summer.

As if to rub it in, Middlesex opened the bowling second time around with their opening batsman, Jacques Kallis. According to a directive from Ali Bacher, South Africa's cricket supremo, Kallis is not meant to be bowling at all. However, with more wickets under his belt (two) than Allan Donald (one), the directive will surely be returned to sender.

Starting the day on 44 for 3 and in drastic need of showing some fight, Sussex did not inconvenience the Middlesex bowlers for long. Indeed, only Bill Athey showed the necessary application and technique needed to cope on this mildly waspish surface. Athey, 40 later this year, finished unbeaten on 60.

The procession at the other end however, was not a pleasing sight. Rajesh Rao, a fearsome looking fellow with goatee and shaven head, pussyfooted his way around a full toss from Richard Johnson and was bowled. A few balls later, Vasbert Drakes, largely an absentee with the ball, edged James Hewitt to Gatting at second slip.

Hewitt, a tall, fair 21-year-old, has a pleasing - if stiff-looking - upright action. He is no Richard Hadlee, at least not yet, and his 4 for 60 here represented a career best.

One who had to work harder for his success was Angus Fraser who is currently enjoying a benefit year. Fraser wears his heart on his sleeve and his frustration, particularly when Hewitt dropped Paul Jarvis off him at long leg, was audible as far away as St John's Wood station.

In the end he had to be content to start his season's tally rolling with the scalp of a tail-ender, Amer Khan, whose parabolic hook shot brought an end to a frenetic innings, when it plopped securely into Johnson's hands at fine leg.

Johnson, scheduled to tour South Africa with England two winters ago before a stress fracture ruled him out, was easily the quickest seamer on display. With three wickets, including one of last week's centurions Keith Newell, he ought to be setting his season's sights high.