Cricket: Middlesex march gathers pace

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Middlesex 551-5 dec

Leicestershire 114 and 253

Middlesex win by an innings and 184 runs

ALTHOUGH nothing is certain in cricket - or life for that matter - the leaders, Middlesex, looked to have done enough by Friday night to extend their unbeaten run in the Championship, and yesterday's victory by an innings confirmed it.

Their batsmen had put Leicestershire's bowlers to the sword, and either side of tea on Friday, when most Londoners are clogging up the capital's roads, Angus Fraser cut a swathe through the Midlanders' first innings with a career-best 7 for 40 to herald his 28th birthday today.

Yesterday, following on, Leicestershire batted with more application when they resumed their second innings, needing another 393 to make Middlesex bat again. But the prospects of the game going the full day, let alone the full distance, were reflected in the size of the crowd, which was meagre even by Saturday standards this summer.

Moreover, when Leicestershire lost Nigel Briers, their captain, to injury in the 15th over of the morning, it was obvious that even the fates were conspiring against them. Briers, who had made a convincing start in a stand with James Whitaker, suddenly crumpled to the ground as he set off for an easy single, and after being helped from the field he was immediately sent to hospital with a snapped Achilles tendon. He will be out for the rest of the season.

Soon after Briers' departure Whitaker ended an innings of some promise by pulling a shortish ball from Mark Feltham straight to Phil Tufnell at square leg. He had been playing well, punctuating sound defence with eight well- timed boundaries, but sadly the manner of his going was more in keeping with a career that has never matched early expectation. It also exposed a Leicestershire batting order that has managed only 17 bonus points this season.

A spectacular one-handed catch by the young debutant Keith Dutch at short leg accounted for Vince Wells after an hour's resistance, Laurie Potter's inside edge plucked out his leg stump, and two hours of obduracy from Phil Robinson ended with a sharp bat-pad catch by John Carr.

Paul Nixon's run out after some aggressive pulling owed as much to Winston Benjamin's call as to Mark Ramprakash's swift pick-up and throw to the wicketkeeper and while Benjamin made amends with some entertaining smiting until the death, it was all just a matter of extended time.

Middlesex's win put them 30 points ahead of second-placed Glamorgan with five games to play, and if Fraser's return to fitness continues to be more like a renaissance than a recovery, they will take some stopping. There has been a zip and nip in his bowling that brought back memories of the tyro seam bowler on whom so many hopes rested.

(Photograph omitted)