Cricket: Welch swings to career high

Middlesex 221 and 132 Warwickshire 158 and 198-2 Warwickshire won by 8 wkts
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There was plenty for Warwickshire's followers to talk about - other than their former all-rounder Paul Smith's tabloid tales of wine, women and drugs on the county circuit - following a second successive Championship victory yesterday.

Smith's namesake Neil, imaginatively promoted to open the second innings, thumped 60 off 76 balls as his severely weakened team reached their target of 196 with time and wickets to spare after 150 overs had been lost to rain on the first two days.

In doing so, they may have allayed some of the fears that Edgbaston, venue for the First Test in 11 days' time, has become a batting minefield. The number of runs per wicket in two games at the ground this season may still be little more than 20, but it was significantly improved as the sun came out for the fourth innings of a hitherto low-scoring encounter.

Until that point, the home crowd might have been watching a re-run of Warwickshire's four-wicket win over Yorkshire. Once again they were dismissed cheaply first time round, then rescued by their bowlers who yesterday rolled Middlesex over for 132.

It was a fine achievement by a team lacking the diverse talents of Nick Knight, Ashley Giles, Keith Piper, Gladstone Small and Tim Munton. One man's injury, or international call-up, is another's opportunity and the seamers Graham Welch and Mo Sheikh grasped theirs.

Sheikh, drafted in from the Birmingham league, clean-bowled Jacques Kallis and Scott Moffatt with his nippy in-swingers. Welch returned a career best five for 46, having set the ball rolling - or swinging - by snaring Mike Gatting just as Middlesex were thinking in terms of building substantially on an overnight lead of 84.

Only Mark Ramprakash, Gatting's heir apparent, resisted for long, with 50 as the visitors toppled to a dismal 91-7.

The acting-captain Andy Moles sent out Smith to open in his stead and for all the bounce and swing in evidence on an overcast morning, 196 was made to look more of a Mole's hill than a mountain.

Smith and Wasim Khan raised 67 - the highest stand of the match - and Moles weighed in with an unbeaten 67 to defeat all Gatting's wiles in the battle of the heavyweight skippers.