Cricket: Spinning to victory

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The Independent Online
Sussex 161 and 120-5; Middlesex 339

GOOD PLAYERS do not go bad overnight. Having sobbed their way around the sub-continent, John Emburey and Phil Tufnell have finished licking their wounds and are now licking their fingers with relish once more, as Sussex were the latest to discover yesterday.

The sultans of spin have already knocked off Gloucestershire this season, and their skill here had put Middlesex within reach of a second Championship victory when bad light afforded the visitors a stay of execution. Bill Athey, at least, is still entrenched after plodding through 71 overs for his 55, yet while Mike Gatting looked miffed when play was adjourned, the last rites should not consume too much of his Bank Holiday.

So meekly did Sussex approach their task that Emburey and Tufnell's combined return read 53.5- 21-76-4. Martin Speight might have broken the spell had he stayed true to nature. But 15 runs in 21 overs was scarcely a stirring riposte. When he finally lost patience, top- edging Tufnell just behind square, the policy of self-denial seemed all the more senseless.

Tufnell was at his flighty best after tea, producing one gorgeously floated delivery to have Colin Wells taken at slip and so completing a miserable outing for the Newhaven brothers, Alan Wells having previously been bowled through the gate for a duck by Emburey, leaving the clan with a match haul of eight runs from four innings. It was the veteran off-spinner, however, who pulled most of the strings, deceiving David Smith through the air to hit middle stump and reacting superbly to catch the elder Wells down by his bootlaces.

If anything, though, Emburey's idiosyncratic bat did even more to put Middlesex in the box seat, as he and Keith Brown extended their overnight stand to 107, a pair of scruffs at their scruffiest and most effective. As entertaining for a goodish crowd as it was infuriating for Sussex, this 34-over alliance contained enough improvisation to warrant bit parts for the contributors in the next Mike Leigh movie. Emburey held fast to the end, finishing with 62 not out, his second successive half-century. What was that about no obvious successor to Ian Botham?

Throughout it all, Ian Salisbury kept plugging away and deservedly picked up two more wickets, persuading Brown to play on and Angus Fraser to sky to deep mid-on. Three England spinners in form on the same day? They won't believe it in Calcutta.