Cricket: Red mist envelops Ramprakash

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The Independent Online
Kent 418-8 dec and 146-3; Middlesex 454

IF THE true charm of a great cricketer lies in his all-too-human fallibility, then Middlesex's Mark Ramprakash is the most truly charming of batsmen. He was on 93 overnight against Kent and moved to 99 with a sweet straight drive to the uphill boundary off his former team-mate, Dean Headley.

But next ball he perished gruesomely at extra cover. A tap for one would have brought him a deserved first Championship century of the season, but he opted instead for a yahoo more suited to the Sunday league.

In the unlikely event that Ramprakash's phone number was in Ray Illingworth's address book, it would have been struck out at 11.15 yesterday morning. Indeed, Keith Fletcher was on the ground yesterday, and cannot have been impressed by this confirmation that even a gifted batsman can suffer from the club player's red mist.

On a low, slow wicket yet to recognise the belated arrival of summer, Middlesex's first concern was to rack up maximum batting points in response to the home side's 418 for eight.

Kent, by yesterday morning, were not quite the same outfit that had started the game on Thursday. Their English-born, Australian-reared quick bowler, Duncan Spencer, began as 12th man but was fielding for Mark Ealham, who chipped a bone in his finger on Friday. Trevor Ward assumed the wicketkeeping gloves from Steve Marsh, who was nursing a knee injury, while the official reserve keeper, Simon Willis, replaced Ward in the outfield.

With both these teams seeking a first win - Kent started the game in 13th position, the defending champions Middlesex second from bottom - it was necessary for the visiting batsmen to move on briskly. Sixth man in was Paul Weekes, a spinner preferred on Thursday morning to the seamer Mark Feltham, and owing his place in the squad to the absence of Phil Tufnell.

Weekes is a promising left- hander, but he and John Carr were becalmed in mid-morning by Matthew Fleming's bustling line-and-length containment and, above all, by a mean display of left-arm spin from Minal Patel. During a 14-over period only eight runs came from the bat before Carr broke the spell and passed 50 with a four.

The slow pitch delayed the arrival of a fourth batting point until shortly after lunch, but Mike Gatting batted on, and by mid-afternoon the scores were level. The Kent skipper, Mark Benson, put his field back, seemingly inviting Gatting to clock up whatever total he required in order to make a second-innings game of it.

When the persevering Patel turned one across Richard Johnson's flailing bat it was his third wicket of the innings, coming in the 27th over of an unbroken, probing spell, and confirmed him as the country's top first-class wicket taker at this stage of the season, with 41 victims. Patel added Angus Fraser's wicket to an impressive tally as Middlesex opted to bat on. In the evening, Benson completed a miserable batting match by feathering the aggressive Fraser just as he had done on Thursday, David Fulton scratched into the thirties but no further, while Ward secured his first Championship fifty of the season before a late-night rush of blood led him to top-edge to mid-wicket. Benson's consolation is that he can make his declaration calculation from the comfort of the balcony, but there are no signs that the pitch will become a fourth-day minefield.