Cricket: Prichard picks off Ramprakash

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The Independent Online
Middlesex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .229-6

Essex

THE SUDDEN weather change from extreme humidity to rain may have an important effect on one of the summer's vital Championship matches.

The ball swung wickedly before the rain in parched Valentine's Park; the pitch is grassy and the water was welcome everywhere, not least in the foul-looking lake.

Conservation was also very much in Middlesex's mind. Only 26 overs were permitted up to lunch but they contained enough meat to provide a helping substantial enough even for the county captain. When John Emburey won the toss and elect to bat, there was some speculation as to whether Mike Gatting was with us; as he hit the boards seven times in his 33 runs his presence was as audible as that of Woody Woodpecker.

The third over of the day will be etched on Mike Roseberry's memory for a long time. The first ball from Steve Andrew, uphill, hit him such a blow in the nether regions he was hopping around for seconds. Standing up, he cracked the next two balls through cover for four; the fourth ball was on target again, this time doubling up the batsman. The fifth ball he tried to force but could not get beyond cover. The last was a signal for a draw, outside off-stump, which was ignored by Roseberry.

Desmond Haynes was settling in ominously when he played on, driving, to Mark Ilott. Six runs later Roseberry, perhaps sensing another box-bender, fell to a highly predatory short leg. Gatting and Mark Ramprakash then rattled off 59 runs in 16 overs, but just as it seemed Middlesex would lunch with a century on the board, Gatting was leg before or, more correctly, foot before - the hit leaving him hopping, too.

'It swung in, hit his boot' Don Topley reported, modestly, to the press tent on his return to third man. Waqar Younis could not have put it better.

Three hours later the players returned to a different world, the air fresher, the grass wet, the ball trundling rather than racing.

Ilott resumed and Ramprakash could not reject a hook, Paul Prichard, Essex's acting captain, making a superb running, diving catch at square leg. John Carr, on nought, should have been caught behind in the same over. It was a costly error.

Prichard is leading the champions because not only are Graham Gooch and Derek Pringle required elsewhere, but Neil Foster and John Stephenson are injured, so if Middlesex should win, the champions do have a ready excuse.

The promising 26-over stand between Keith Brown and Carr ended with a good slip catch once Andrew had returned for a third spell. But Carr carried on merrily, unwinding from the game's ugliest stance to hit some crisp off-drives.

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