Cricket: Tufnell's spell of rhythm

Middlesex 490-9 dec Sussex 187 and 119-6 Match drawn
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The Independent Online
IN AN engrossing finale which a squall-ridden day had done its best to ensure would never take place, Middlesex were deprived of victory in early evening sunshine at Lord's yesterday.

Sussex did not so much hold out as hang on for dear life in the last session when 21-year-old Jamie Hewitt appeared utterly to have undermined their scant confidence with a spell of three wickets in 13 balls without conceding a run. Hewitt, who recorded his career-best figures for the second time in two days, was both controlled and persistent but it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that Sussex were hardly in the mood for a fight. They finished on 119 for 6, still 184 adrift of Middlesex's total in their only innings and they could hardly be said to have earned the three points that they secured for the draw.

Both these sides are in a transitional period, which is, of course, a technical term for saying that they will be light years off the pace when the silverware is handed out. Sussex, poor under-strength Sussex, weakened by a winter of misery and reliant largely on an uncomfortable combination of vast experience and unrealised potential, are considerably behind Middlesex in this respect. Had there been a full day's play their chances of saving the match would not have amounted to a thimble full of sand from Hove beach.

As it was, it was a foul day in St John's Wood, the worst kind for cricket of any type and not least for a Championship which is struggling at the best of times to create an impression and barely seems to have begun in 1997. There were four interruptions of various lengths in all and the only certainties were that another would be along in a minute and that between them Sussex would lose another wicket. It took only three overs to shed their first when Keith Greenfield appeared to be surprised by Hewitt's swing and was bowled. He was less culpable than the 37-year-old Neil Taylor who essayed a shot in the direction of midwicket against Phil Tufnell's seventh ball in the Championship this season. Apart from being against the spin, the slope and all of Sussex's interests, it was a splendid effort.

It was as heartening to watch Tufnell at this point as it was to see Hewitt assemble his working parts later. England's left-arm spinner bowled round the wicket to the right hander and the familiar little kink in his run up was perfectly synchronised. He accounted for Toby Peirce off bat and pad and through to the wicketkeeper. At least Peirce had resisted, as did Bill Athey between the breaks and when Hewitt beat him with a splendid ball of full length it seemed Sussex might fold. But Peter Moores and Keith Newell saw out the remaining overs with the vigilance required and sadly Angus Fraser's introduction did not help the Middlesex cause. It is to be hoped the big-hearted seamer rediscovers whatever it is he has misplaced - length would do for a start - but Sussex have much more to find before improvement can be expected.

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