Cricket: Ramprakash in convincing form

Worcestershire 627-6 dec Middlesex 389 and 373-5 dec Match drawn
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The Independent Online
THIS was a catchweight contest - two hopelessly mismatched opponents, cricket versus the wicket, and there was no doubt as to which came out on top. There just were not enough days in the game to provide a more decisive result.

The sheer weight of runs, all 1,389 of them for the accumulated loss of 21 wickets, may have left supporters on both sides punch drunk, yet there was still plenty to interest them throughout an absorbing four days.

Both sides played it properly to the end. There was no sign of joke bowling at any time, and no move right at the end to allow Mike Gatting to knock off the 17 runs he needed to notch up his 93rd first-class ton. The man himself eschewed that particular temptation by playing out a couple of maidens at the death. It all added up to an honourable and fascinating draw.

Through it all shone Mark Ramprakash. He reached his second hundred of the game, and did it in front of the England selector at the other end. With the Tests against South Africa coming up it was useful that Gatting could view at first hand the form of the Middlesex captain and Ramprakash looked really good during his third-wicket partnership of 112 with his predecessor.

The timing was all there, the shot placement was near perfect. After his 122 first time around, Ramprakash drove and cut his way impeccably to 108 (his 42nd first class hundred), hitting 18 boundaries and he did not present a solitary chance off the 187 balls he faced. He clearly enjoys Uxbridge since this was the second time that he has achieved the feat of scoring a hundred in each innings on this ground.

His dismissal, when it came shortly before tea, caught practically everyone, except Graeme Hick, by surprise. Hick retained his wits long enough to hang on to a simple lobbed catch after Ramprakash bottom-edged a quicker delivery from off-spinner Vikram Solanki on to his pad. The ball looped tamely over his head and dropped into Hick's grateful grasp.

By then though Ramprakash had done enough, and so too had Justin Langer. His exquisite hundred was filled with muscular pulls and drives and it was a shame that he exposed his leg stump to Gavin Haynes when he did, because he looked set to make it a second double century. Never mind, with 509 runs at an average of 127.25 from six innings Australian Langer should give Middlesex value for money.

Gatting, too, found his touch after a scratchy start this season. He was at times imperious as he peppered the field in characteristic fashion.

Weightier matters may occupy cricket's elder statesman these days, but he was still able to show flashes of the power and timing that have made him a heavyweight in his illustrious career.

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