Cricket: Middlesex rescued again by Emburey and Brown

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Middlesex 295-5 v Northants

MIDDLESEX have been working a rather useful sting this season. Lull the opposition by giving up Desmond Haynes and Mike Gatting cheaply, then sit back and let John Emburey and Keith Brown turn the grins into grimaces. Yesterday it was Northamptonshire's turn to be hoodwinked by the champions-elect. All that was lacking was a burst from Scott Joplin.

Provided they can win here and take full advantage of their game in hand, Northamptonshire possess the best chance of pipping their hosts at the post. Indeed, when Middlesex slithered to 161 for 5 just before tea, visions of that elusive first pennant were beginning to border on the realistic. They should have known better, of course.

So painstaking had been the leaders' progress that when the electronic scoreboard went on the blink 25 minutes before lunch, it took some time for the lack of digital activity to sink in. By this juncture, Haynes and Mike Roseberry had departed, Paul Taylor angling one across the Barbadian to have him caught behind, Kevin Curran nipping one back to pin his opening partner leg-before. So far so good for the Middlesex masterplan.

Gatting played his part in the first over of the afternoon, smearing Curtly Ambrose to point, whereupon John Carr and Paul Weekes upset the calculations in a diligent stand of 56 in 23 overs.

Carr was unlucky to fall prey to an agile catch by Alan Fordham at extra cover and when Curran trapped Weekes with the first offering of a new spell, the way was clear for Emburey and Brown to strut their profoundly idiosyncratic stuff.

Should Middlesex secure their seventh Championship title in 18 summers, these two will deserve more garlands than most. To cite but one telling example, they twice pulled the innings out of the mire against Surrey, on the second occasion stealing a win whose value extended far beyond mere points. Now they were at it again, adding 134 in 40 overs without being parted or even seriously threatened. The Northamptonshire bowlers were presumably too busy tearing their hair out to concentrate properly.

Brown performed his customised shovel-drive to perfection but Emburey, as ever, was the principal attraction. All the trademark shots were there: a hook against a rising ball from Ambrose pitched outside off-stump; an inside edge to the fine leg boundary off Taylor, feet glued to the spot; an off-balance sweep off Andy Roberts which culminated with the striker falling flat on his back, closely followed by a reverse sweep, which is about as text-bookish as our hero gets. The eccentrics of this world have no finer representative.