COUNTY BATSMEN are revealing their shortcomings with a frightening regularity. After an embarrassing first innings at Lord's in their last match against Northamptonshire, who also batted lamentably, Middlesex were shot out for 113 at Southchurch Park before Nasser Hussain and the Queenslander, Stuart Law, put the Middlesex batting and the pitch into a proper prospective.
There was a little movement and the odd ball seemed to bounce unevenly but there was nothing remotely to suggest that the Inspector of Pitches should have been tucking his trousers into his bicycle clips.
Only two innings of any stature were played by Middlesex. One by their captain, Mark Ramprakash, and the other by the newest generation of a famous name. Ben Hutton, the grandson of Sir Leonard and son of Richard and also the grandson of Ben Brocklehurst, who kept in Somerset soon after the war, made an impressive 25 in 70 balls going in first like his Hutton grandfather.
Ben watched while six wickets fell at the other end, sheltering behind a good defensive technique. He used his height to get well forward; his bat and pad were nicely adjacent, and on the back foot he was well balanced and correctly positioned. On this evidence, a chip off the old block.
He produced a couple of lovely drives through extra cover off Ronnie Irani and he timed the ball pleasantly off his leg. He suggested, too, that if the situation warrants he would be capable of hitting the ball hard enough to bring a smile to the face of grandfather Brocklehurst who at times handed out considerable punishment in a robust West Country manner. Hutton's was a most encouraging first Championship innings.
While Ramprakash survived for 56 balls, he did not try to stamp his authority on proceedings as a batsman of his class should. He began the season well but has temporarily dried up and one only hopes that the sceptre of failure is not again inhibiting him.
There were a couple of pretty good balls from a competent Essex attack in among some very poor strokes. Mark Ilott took two wickets in successive balls before limping off with knee trouble in his sixth over. Then Ricky Anderson, who is 22 and in his first season and bowls at just above medium pace, took five wickets bowling straight and mostly to a full length and this was the best return of his short career so far.
Essex soon lost both their openers before Hussain and Law restored order in a resounding stand of 120. England's new captain is clearly in a most determined mood and he cut and drove beautifully. Law was also in fine form and when he cut Tim Bloomfield for four he became the first batsman to reach 1,000 first-class runs this year.
They had both reached 50 when Law swung Paul Weekes to deep square leg but they had already assured Essex of what might turn out to be a decisive advantage.Reuse content