Gloucestershire in control after Weston's toil

Gloucestershire 347 Middlesex 66-3
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The Independent Online

Middlesex and Gloucestershire may have entered this match as the second and third best teams in the Championship, but a glance at the First Division table shows there is very little margin for error between the title race and the battle to avoid relegation.

Middlesex and Gloucestershire may have entered this match as the second and third best teams in the Championship, but a glance at the First Division table shows there is very little margin for error between the title race and the battle to avoid relegation.

And, until the last session when Middlesex got themselves into a bit of a muddle, this match had the look of two sides concentrating on avoiding the drop and consequently playing safe. Gloucestershire's first innings grew about as fast as a stalactite, and it was about as interesting to watch.

The opener Philip Weston, a careful driver at the best of times, crawled along in the slow lane throughout the morning and into the long afternoon, when he showed that, for him at least, the nineties were not so much nervous as mind-numbing. True it is his job to hold down one end thus freeing up his partners at the other, but he still should have got to three figures.

As it was having reached 90 just after lunch, he then managed just eight singles in the 38 balls he faced thereafter, finally falling to the 39th when he pulled Ajit Agarkar square to be well taken by Jamie Dalrymple.

Weston spent more than six hours at the crease, facing 298 balls in that time and hitting just half a dozen boundaries, but he was pretty much on his own, since no one else seemed prepared to have a dart.

At least the left-hander shared in a sixth-wicket stand of 93 off 34 overs with New Zealander James Franklin - the first to fall victim to the new ball when he drove Simon Cook straight to extra-cover.

After Weston's departure Agarkar struck again in his next over when Martyn Ball top-edged an attempted hook and was caught at deep fine-leg by Cook. That wicket presented the Indian pace bowler with his first five-wicket haul for the county.

Middlesex then found themselves unable to whip out the tail. Ian Fisher, James Averis and Jon Lewis somehow cobbled together 79 runs for the last two wickets, more than enough to squeeze one more batting bonus point out of the Middlesex attack.

A sense of urgency was finally injected into the day when Middlesex lost the early wickets of Ben Hutton and Nick Compton, then saw Sven Koenig run out shortly before the close, after being called for a quick single by Owais Shah. He was sent back, but slipped and watched helplessly as Alex Gidman's throw from square-leg found the target.

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