Cricket: Weekes and Fraser steer Middlesex into last eight

Essex 233-9 Middlesex 234-6 Middlesex win by four wickets
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The Independent Online
Essex 233-9 Middlesex 234-6 Middlesex win by four wickets

PAUL WEEKES steered the Middlesex ship back on course yesterday in a match which remained in doubt almost to the end, thanks to some tight Essex bowling in defence of an average target, and some becalmed periods in the Middlesex response.

The prize for winning this Group D fixture was a place in the Benson & Hedges quarter-finals while Essex's fate will depend on run rates and Glamorgan fortunes against Middlesex tomorrow.

The early architect of Middlesex's victory, and Gold Award winner, was a North London club bowler who turns out for Stanmore, and last pulled on a county sweater in 1992 - ironically for Essex.

Alastair Fraser concedes four inches in height to his older brother Angus, but little in length of run-up. He is a lean, brisk performer whose 4 for 45 was comfortably his best return in any county competition.

He owes his part-time recall to Ricky Fay's sudden winter departure, but yesterday Fraser could have been stretchered off before he even got to bowl. In cutting off a straight drive by Nasser Hussain, he brought his shin down on the top of an advertising board with a fearful crack. Swift treatment soon saw him back on the field.

In most games, Hussain's cultured century would have helped Essex to victory. While Stuart Law was with him, the home side looked capable of batting the visitors out of the game. But once the first-change bowler, Richard Johnson, removed the Australian, the middle order tumbled and it took a late flurry organised by Neil Williams for Essex to post a decent score.

Keith Brown, the captain Mark Ramprakash and Jason Pooley kept the Middlesex score rolling early on, but in the end the visitors needed all but seven balls of their allocation as Weekes eased them home.