Fleming leaves it too late

<preform>Nottinghamshire 546 and 212-5 dec<br>Middlesex 345 and 158-2<br>Match drawn</preform>
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The Independent Online

The fourth day was full of promise. Nottinghamshire had gambled on bowling themselves to a win. Middlesex's batsmen, who knew the odds were against them but are not short of confidence, needed to score 406 in the day, but they still thought they were in with a chance.

The fourth day was full of promise. Nottinghamshire had gambled on bowling themselves to a win. Middlesex's batsmen, who knew the odds were against them but are not short of confidence, needed to score 406 in the day, but they still thought they were in with a chance.

Full of promise, except for the weather forecast. A persistent, irritating drizzle meant play could not begin until 2.50pm. There was time for 46 overs, and the only memorable thing about a dismal day was that two spinners got through 25 overs in 50 minutes before tea, and batsmen who were making only two runs an over still scored at a respectable run-a-minute.

Andrew Strauss chopped on the third ball of the day, but if that gave Stephen Fleming, Nottinghamshire's new captain, any ideas, they were soon dispelled. The pitch took a little slow spin - hence Graeme Swann and David Hussey bowled from the start - but not enough to trouble Ben Hutton and Ed Smith.

The talk during the frustrating hours was about Ed Joyce, the 26-year-old Irishman whose 192 in Middlesex's first innings was the principal reason why there was any play at all on the last day. His long innings loosened the visitors' stranglehold after eight wickets fell with the arrears still 334. Joyce's brilliance reduced Fleming's options and, by not enforcing the follow-on on Friday afternoon, he decided on the least risky one.

Whenever an English middle-order batsman makes a big, elegant hundred he is immediately judged in terms of his England potential. The case of Joyce is muddled by the fact that he is not qualified for England, but his four-year qualifying period seems to end on 1 July.

He lives in England, but when he talks about home he is referring to Ireland. He learned the game from his father, an enthusiastic club cricketer, and went to Trinity College, Dublin because they play cricket. He could, perhaps, upset his opponents by sledging in Irish.

Joyce's laid-back elegance has been compared to David Gower, but he prefers a comparison with Graham Thorpe - both use the pitch to work the ball around.

If asked to play for either Ireland and England in the 2007 World Cup, he would not hesitate. "England," he says. "It's my career." He is an unsentimental Irishman.

Smith proved himself no less elegant and was on the brink of a fifty on debut when he was run out two short of it. He and Hutton had added 88 together, but there was nothing left in the game. Nottinghamshire blew a good chance. For Middlesex, there was modest rejoicing.

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