Cricket: Unnatural check-out beckoning: Johnson holds key for Nottinghamshire as Leicestershire just glare

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Nottinghamshire 127-4 v Middlesex

A PRIZE of pounds 24,250 may be at stake here, that being the amount on the cheque for second place in the Championship which either of these teams could pick up on Monday if Leicestershire fail at Old Trafford.

In the case of Middlesex, who began the final round 16 points behind the Running Fox, the runners-up spot is perhaps a slim hope. But that will not deter Mike Gatting, under whose guidance the 1993 champions have won four of their last five matches.

For either to get there, however, it will need a positive result, which seems unlikely to be achieved by natural methods given the damage done by the weather. Not until 3pm yesterday did the umpires consider the ground fit to make a start, despite a drying wind.

On the other hand, Ron Allsopp's final offering of the season, not instantly recognisable as the pitch for this game until the stumps were inserted, bears outward similarities to the strips which Hadlee and Rice once knew so well, so who can tell what might happen? Nottinghamshire may well regard 127 for 4 from 44 overs after being put in as not too bad a start.

Even to finish third would represent a decent effort by Nottinghamshire, another team whose whole seems to add up to more than the sum of its parts.

If Warwickshire feel snubbed to have only Keith Piper chosen for an England tour, they have at least earned greater recognition than Nottinghamshire, who are unrepresented for the first time since 1981.

The coach Alan Ormrod's plans are very much in their infancy and 1995, which Tim Robinson says will be his last season as captain, will see changes. Ormrod wants at least two new top-order batsmen, with Jimmy Adams unavailable and Mark Crawley retired and doubt still surrounding the return of New Zealand's Chris Cairns.

Robinson steered his side away from early trouble yesterday after the loss of Paul Pollard in the first over before Graeme Archer and he were dismissed in consecutive overs, the former a confidence-boosting victim for Richard Johnson in his return to action following a knee operation. Adams, struggling of late, again gave the impression the season cannot end quick enough, but Paul Johnson struck a couple of stirring blows and much may depend on his progress this morning.