Bells toll as Bevan closes on landmark

The approach to Michael Bevan's half-century washeralded by a carillon of bells, and the build-up was rendered all the more dramatic by the sudden silence at the moment the Australian got to the mark.

The approach to Michael Bevan's half-century washeralded by a carillon of bells, and the build-up was rendered all the more dramatic by the sudden silence at the moment the Australian got to the mark.

The bells could be pealing again today, should he knock off the remaining 18 runs he needs to reach 1,000 for the season and then go on to hit the winning runs for a resurgent Sussex. But this match remains delicately poised. Sussex have seven wickets in which to pick off the remaining 150 runs.

On paper, a Sussex win; but the way Phil Tufnell got a ball to lift and turn markedly to remove the Sussex captain and danger man, Chris Adams, late into the final session, suggested that on balance, Middlesex are still in with a big shout.

The pity of it would be if Mark Ramprakash's feat of scoring a hundred in eachinnings for the fourth time in his career, more than anyone else has managed for the county, were to be overshadowed by a Sussex victory.

He will derive much pleasure from the fact that he is out on his own in Middlesex annals - Patsy Hendren accomplished the feat four times but one of those was for MCC - and there was obvious delight whenRamprakash turned his carefully constructed innings into the 50th hundred of his career.

On the three previous occasions that Ramprakash has done this particular double none has been at Lord's; the first was against Kent at Canterbury in 1990, the other two were both at Uxbridge, against Leicestershire and Worcestershire in 1995 and 1998 respectively.

This latest milestone was chanceless. The more readily his partners were to surrender their wickets, the deeper Ramprakash dug in. There were some glorious shots although he eschewed any risk, electing to tap and chip away, trying to fashion a respectable target.

He needed help, but had to wait until the fall of the seventh wicket shortly before lunch for it to arrive in the shape of the crocked Richard Johnson.

The Middlesex paceman, nursing a niggly knee, limped out to the crease with his captain, Justin Langer, as his runner and proceeded to show his batting betters how to provide 104 runs worth of support, garnering a half-century in the process.

Johnson even out-hit Ramprakash as he helped himself to a six - which brought up his half-century - and nine fours, compared with his senior partner's eight boundaries.

Despite being robbed of the services of Robin Martin-Jenkins, suffering from sore shins, the batsmen had to work for every run. James Kirtley pounded in for much of the morning from the Adelaide End, during which exhausting spell he rarely strayed from an ideal line and length and disposed of Owais Shah (a terrible shot to present the bowler with a return catch off a leading edge) and David Nash (foolishly flicking at a wide ball down the leg side).

At the other end Umer Rashid, a former Middlesex man, wheeled away for 24 overs of left-arm spin and was rewarded with a season's best 4 for 80 off a total of 35 excellent overs. Much depends on the ability of Tufnell's spin to take its toll of the remaining Sussex batsmen.

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