Cricket: Hewitt mows to make hay

Northamptonshire 223 and 88 Middlesex 96 and 157-3
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The Independent Online
IT WAS four-day cricket but not as anyone envisaged it. That this match trickled into a third day was wondrous given the dearth of decent batting.

There has been some very decent bowling throughout the game's brief existence - Devon Malcolm, Paul Taylor, Angus Fraser and Jamie Hewitt being particularly noteworthy - but there really has been some substandard batsmanship.

Apart from Graeme Swann in Northamptonshire's first innings and the Middlesex opener Justin Langer yesterday, there has been little to admire on the batting front. The Australian Langer, a left-hander, finally restored sanity with a half- century which helped set up Middlesex for what should be victory today, with 59 needed. But even he required a share of luck, surviving when dropped at second slip.

Northants' captain, Matthew Hayden, has an ankle injury so did not feature in the game and they were further shorn of the experienced Rob Bailey and Mal Loye, both dropped.

The absence of those three went someway to explaining how the upper order could be plunged so readily into chaos for the second time in this match as they sank to 88, the lowest score in the game so far.

Hewitt and Fraser were like a couple of mowing machines cutting a swathe through their ranks. Hewitt returned a remarkable 4 for 6 in 10 overs while Fraser, who sent down half as many overs again, finished with 3 for 16.

There was some assistance for the bowlers from the pitch. The odd delivery tended to keep low, the occasional one would lift sharply. But the most help for bowlers on both sides has come from poor shots.

Yesterday Northants' Tony Penberthy committed the cardinal sin of giving up his wicket with the interval just three overs away. And when Kevin Innes went back and across his stumps on the stoke of lunch to Hewitt they were doomed.

The acting captain David Ripley anchored things, finishing unbeaten for the second time in the match, but the remainder could not hack it. But there were few heroes with a bat.

The tattered remnants of the Middlesex innings had been quickly mopped up first thing in the morning, adding just one run for 96. Taylor and Malcolm needed just nine minutes and 10 deliveries between them to do the deed and earn their side a 127-run advantage to take with them into the second innings.