Cricket: Ramprakash leads the centurions

Middlesex 400-2 v Northamptonshire
Click to follow
The Independent Online
The atmosphere here was a mixture of Revolution and Old Boys' Day for Middlesex. The new captain, Mark Ramprakash, won a most important toss and showed off his new sense of responsibility by scoring 109 not out; the newcomer, Jacques Kallis, hit 121 for his first Championship century; the old captain, Mike Gatting, freed at last from the burdensome job, was positively skittish in reaching 102 not out; and the old faithful, John Emburey, was an energetic 12th man for Northamptonshire.

This has been an eventful week at the game's headquarters. One could not help wondering if there was not more to Gatting's resignation than met the eye. The country's longest-serving county captain surely does not resign on an impulse six weeks into a new season after 13 years in the job.

Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, Australia's ferocious fast bowlers of the Seventies, were here on Wednesday night, compared by Michael Parkinson, and their conversational bouncers were, by all accounts, a delight. Later the same evening, the staff apparently discovered some uninvited guests under the covers of today's pitch. Mercifully, no damage was done even if one or two eyebrows were raised.

Under a cloudless sky, the pitch was a gem for batting. Just the easy flat surface an out-of- form side would dream about, with the added advantage of a short boundary on the Grandstand side of the ground.

Middlesex were given a helping hand at the start by another of their old players, David Follett who, after two seasons at Lord's, relocated to Northampton. His first ball went down the leg side for four wides, which in today's currency adds six to the total, and his first over donated 17 to the Middlesex cause.

Kallis and Paul Weekes helped themselves and the 50 arrived in the eighth over. Follett was taken off after his first five overs had cost 44 and then an hour of vague reality returned. The 100 came in the 20th over and it was then rather a shock when, at 107, Weekes drove Kevin Curran to extra cover.

Ramprakash walked in briskly and batted at first like a man who had dreamt that he had been made captain of Middlesex and was trying to decide whether it had been a nightmare or not. His sixth ball brought a single to fine leg but he had to wait another 27 before he scored again.

While Ramprakash's fluency gradually returned, Kallis drove, pulled and square cut his way to a century which came in 143 balls with 19 fours. He then became the second man to drive Curran to extra cover and Gatting strode cheerfully out to join his successor.

The day now meandered peacefully on, apart from the swarms of angry helicopters noisily guarding Bill Clinton at the US Ambassador's house in Regent's Park. With the Northamptonshire bowling amiably innocuous in the sunshine, Ramprakash's hundred arrived from 221 balls with six overs left, Gatting's - the 92nd of his career - with two left. Neither was at his best, and they did not have to be, but they remain to take Middlesex maybe to 600 or more today.