Cricket: Only Ratcliffe can cope with mysteries of spin

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The Independent Online
Warwickshire 168-5 v Middlesex

HOW Warwickshire could meet the spin kings and Championship leaders, Middlesex on a raging turner, by first-day standards, is something of a mystery. Yesterday's pitch was also used for the NatWest Trophy match against Kent last week.

Warwickshire threw in a second spinner, the left-armer Paul Booth for the first time this summer and were just thankful to win the toss. Batting last against Phil Tufnell and John Emburey, who have taken 73 first-class wickets this summer, could be something of a trial.

Only Jason Ratcliffe, with 82 from 221 balls in almost four hours, met the twirl challenge with anything resembling authority. Even the pitch on which Tufnell took a match-winning 8 for 29 against Glamorgan at Cardiff less than a fortnight ago would have been consigned to his attic. This one, he would happily carry around in a carpet bag.

Middlesex have won all six Championship matches so far this summer when batting second, an unusual statistic. They are the team in form, having cast aside Sussex, Derbyshire, Somerset, and Surrey as well as Glamorgan, with the only interruption a draw in a rain-ruined match against Durham at Gateshead in mid-June. They have led the table for more than a month.

Spinners took all five wickets on the opening day, something of a record for the new, lengthened Championship format. Already 30 points ahead of second-placed Surrey, some shrewd money could be placed on Middlesex with their lack of Test calls, at present, and urgent delivery of overs.

Rain trimmed 35 overs from the scheduled allocation but they fell only marginally short. Emburey's three-pace rush-up, rather than run-up, illustrated the box of delights contained in this pitch.

Ratcliffe confirmed his emergence from difficult times last summer before being leg before, fifth out, playing defensively to Tufnell. Emburey had bow-led Andy Moles and Dominic Ostler off-stump; Trevor Penney was leg before, sweeping, and Dermot Reeve was brilliantly caught by Angus Fraser at mid-on. Middlesex are already smacking their lips.