Cricket: Ramprakash back to brilliant best

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Northants 232-7; Middlesex 236-4

Middlesex win by 6 wickets

WHEN Curtly Ambrose failed to show up at Gatwick on Monday morning it is a fair bet Mark Ramprakash was not rushing to the travel agent to fix him an alternative flight. If anyone had fancied a break from cricket it would have been the England batsman who, having averaged 10.30 in the Caribbean, found he was due to face Ambrose again in yesterday's Benson and Hedges Cup tie with Northamptonshire.

Rarely has a reprieve been so enjoyed. Ramprakash, batting with the destructive elegance he produces everywhere but in the Test arena, made a brilliant, unbeaten 119 to lead Middlesex into the second round. There they meet Warwickshire whose own West Indian, Brian Lara, arrives today.

The only consolation for Northamptonshire was a pledge by Ambrose to return 'by the weekend' - presumably this weekend. When he arrives it will be to a frosty welcome and a four-figure fine. Short of sacking Ambrose it is Northamptonshire's only realistic course, their chief executive Steve Coverdale, the man left waiting at the airport, admitting 'a suspension defeats the object.'

Ambrose might well have tilted the balance yesterday. His replacement, 18-year-old Kevin Innes, played well in the circumstances - even claiming Mike Gatting as his maiden wicket - but with David Capel also out injured, Northamptonshire were a bowler light.

They needed a substantial total but of their strong top five, only Mal Loye, building on his excellent A tour with 71 in 65 balls, responded. John Emburey, making an early return from his eye injury, and Phil Tufnell were quickly into last year's bewitching rhythm, sharing six wickets.

It was always within the reach of Ramprakash. Opening in the absence of Desmond Haynes - whose break from cricket has been handled rather better than Ambrose's - he played himself back into form so fluently even Ambrose would have been ineffective by the end.