Cricket: Learning curve for Ramprakash

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The Independent Online
So far, Mark Ramprakash has had a gentle introduction to captaincy. After winning a most important toss it has all been straightforward enough. Three centurians, who were required to do nothing more than take advantage of a flat pitch and bowling, which was plenty less than penetrative, batted Northamptonshire into submission.

The Middlesex bowling then exploded, the muted talk in the pavilion's innermost sanctum just before lunch about the uneven bounce in the pitch. It was nothing more than shameless Middlesex propaganda, but Ramprakash's men still managed an early wicket.

In the fourth over, Richard Montgomerie pushed half forward to James Hewitt and became the fifth batsman to be given out lbw on the second day, which was a curiosity considering the lack of movement. He was trapped leg before for 0 by Hewitt after only six runs were on the board.

After that, it was a simple process of whether or not Middlesex would wear down the concentration of the Northamptonshire batsmen.

After 34 overs, three of them had gone for 91 runs. After Montgomerie, David Roberts was caught by Scott Moffat off Phil Tufnell for 21, while third man in Rob Bailey offered more resistance before falling to the Tufnell-Moffat combination for 44.

Kevin Curran and Tony Penberthy settled themselves in, and with 56 overs of the innings gone, the Zimbabwean Curran had compiled 53, with Penberthy ably assisting on 26.

In all honesty, Mike Gatting's hundred, romantic though the circumstances were, was not only not one of his best, it must have been in line for his worst.

His timing was seldom there, many of his strokes were disjointed and he wasted any number of bad balls. It was no surprise when, soon after the start, he played a forward stroke on the walk to Paul Taylor, whose persistence was admirable, and lost his off-stump.

Twelve runs later, Ramprakash played half forward to David Follett and departed in similar fashion. Jason Pooley and Scott Moffat were then lbw to Taylor, Pooley on the back foot and Moffat moving forward. At 412 for 6, Middlesex were in danger of wasting an excellent position.

But this did not allow for Keith Brown, a vastly undervalued cricketer who shored up the innings, and Richard Johnson.

The pair put on 64 in 17 overs and, with some lovely strokes, put the pitch back into its true perspective, Johnson making 29 with five boundaries.

Middlesex were 491 for 8 at lunch, and Ramprakash, eyes fixed firmly on an innings victory, allowed the innings to continue another 45 minutes. Whether that time would have been better employed bowling only time will tell.