Cricket: Ilott and McCague demolish Middlesex: England A back in tour groove as chairman of selectors is rebuffed by senior paceman

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The Independent Online
England A . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .357

Middlesex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .156 and 50-2

AFTER a stilted opening day it was just like old times yesterday at England A's South African tour reunion. They played it tight tactically, Mark Ilott took a clutch of wickets and victory appeared imminent - even the sun shone. Add in the continued failure to hold catches and it could have been Bloemfontein or Johannesburg, except there were a few more sweaters in evidence.

Ilott, who took 37 first-class wickets at under 14 on tour, took 4 for 31 as Middlesex were dismissed 201 runs short on the first innings. He added another as they followed on, bowled long spells and did everything the watching Ray Illingworth could have asked of him.

He even hit an unbeaten 45, six short of his career-best. With Martin McCague taking 3 for 51 with his latest, and smoothest, remodelled action, the last six Middlesex wickets were wrapped up in six overs at a cost of 13 runs.

That followed a promising start by Middlesex, for whom Mike Gatting briefly revived his own international cause. Having been dropped off Ilott on 19, then beaten off the next two balls, he made 59 in just over two hours with 12 fours. Batting again he was 27 not out at the close.

As in South Africa, England A played pressure cricket. Some rustiness apart - the otherwise admirable Martin Bicknell conceded 11 in his second over - it succeeded in putting the onus on Middlesex's weakened batting line-up.

Then, once Gatting (leg before to Adrian Dale) and John Carr (run out by Alan Wells) went within four balls, they attacked, recalling McCague with seven around the bat. Bowling with a shorter, curving run- up and getting more side-on, McCague eased into the season with some sharp, but not express deliveries in a second spell of 3 for 18.

Despite the temptation of further batting practice in front of Illingworth, England went for the win and, probably, tomorrow off.

John Stephenson, the Essex opener, yesterday broke his right thumb when he was struck in practice by a ball from Mike Kasprowicz, the county's new recruit from Australia. The 22-year-old fast bowler also left the wicketkeeper Mike Garnham with a dislocated finger as the side prepared at Chelmsford.

Atherton brings hope, page 43