Cricket: Serene Swann standing tall

Middlesex v Northamptonshire
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The Independent Online
IT HAD looked as if Middlesex had taken out a contract on the Northamptonshire batsmen. Tim Bloomfield and Angus Fraser had littered Lord's with five victims in a little over an hour after the visitors had elected to bat.

The ball swung about a fair amount in the heavy overcast conditions and Bloomfield in particular took advantage with a devastating spell of four wickets for 10 runs in 27 balls.

But if there was a contract it came with a get-out clause and Graeme Swann spotted it and took advantage of it. Patiently, ball by ball, run by run, over by over he and Kevin Innes clawed Northamptonshire back into the match.

From a fairly terminal-looking 30 for 5 they chipped and chiselled the innings along to a sturdier 128. By then Innes had been at the crease for 105 minutes for his stoical contribution of 14 runs to the partnership of 98.

He fell to a beauty from Fraser which left him late, found the edge and presented Justin Langer with a catch in the slips.

Undaunted Swann sailed on, indeed he upped the rate. He had been joined by acting captain David Ripley, who was standing in for Matthew Hayden, the Australian forced out with an ankle injury.

They were beginning to look like perfect partners when Swann drove at Fraser and got a nick on to his stumps. It was his third half-century in four innings and underlined his burgeoning talent. He was unfazed by the constant comings and goings of his team-mates and revealed sensible shot selection, respecting the good delivery and punishing anything wayward.

His two hours in the middle had restored a great deal of pride to the innings and Ripley, as befits a captain substantive or not, took up the cudgels on his departure. He was content to sit back while Paul Taylor gave it a lash - the left-hander hoisting Phil Tufnell into the Mound Stand for six - but then taking charge when Michael Davies replaced Taylor.

Davies tried to break out by pulling Tufnell but he succeeded only in presenting Jamie Hewitt with a catch at midwicket. Hewitt then polished off the innings by bowling Devon Malcolm, but not before the former England fast bowler had hammered Tufnell straight back over his head for six.

The Middlesex reply got off to a dreadful start as they lost three wickets in 17 balls - Mike Roseberry falling lbw, as did his captain Mark Ramprakash. Inbetween Langer was run out after an unholy muddle with Ramprakash.