Langer cracks 76 after early Middlesex slump

The Middlesex captain, Justin Langer, continued his excellent run of form with an unbeaten 76 on a rain-hit opening day of the County Championship Second Division match with Gloucestershire at Bristol yesterday.

The Middlesex captain, Justin Langer, continued his excellent run of form with an unbeaten 76 on a rain-hit opening day of the County Championship Second Division match with Gloucestershire at Bristol yesterday.

The Australian, who hit centuries in his previous two games, pulled Middlesex round from 24 for 3 in the 12th over to 151 for 5 at tea, when heavy rain ended play.

It was the second interruption of the day, with 75 minutes of the morning session also lost to rain. Jon Lewis claimed 3 for 61 to move past 50 wickets for Gloucestershire this season, while there was one apiece for Mike Smith and Tim Hancock.

The Durham coach, Norman Gifford, knows the club's hopes of retaining a place in the First Division could hinge on the showdown with their fellow strugglers Derbyshire, starting today.

Both sides are lingering in the drop zone, but Gifford believes victory at Derby could be the catalyst for a late-season survival charge. He said: "They are just behind us. It is a big game for both of us and we need to win. Victory there would do us the world of good."

Melvyn Betts returns to the 13-man Durham squad after missing more than a fortnight's action due to a minor operation on his knee.

The Derbyshire cricket manager, Colin Wells, is sweating over the fitness of Steve Titchard (ribs) and Steve Stubbings (knee). "Durham blow a bit hot and cold," he said. "They have obviously got a pretty decent seam attack, but their batting will rest on [Nick] Speak and [Simon] Katich."

In another basement encounter, Hampshire travel to face Kent at Canterbury, with their director of cricket, Tim Tremlett, expecting Shane Warne to return from Australia duty early in the morning. Derek Kenway is out with a leg injury.

"They [Kent] are in a relegation battle and will be fighting as hard as we will be to get ourselves out of that position," said Tremlett.

The Kent coach, John Wright, said: "There is a lot at stake for both sides. We anticipate a competitive game and we're pleased to be at home."

Lancashire could cut the 20-point gap to the pace-setters, Surrey, with a victory on their trip to Leicestershire.

In the Second Division, Glamorgan meet Sussex at Colwyn Bay. The Glamorgan coach, John Hammond, said: "In the last game with Sussex, just prior to the Benson and Hedges Cup final, they beat us. I think our focus might have been towards that, so hopefully we will learn things from our experience in that game. It is a must-win situation."

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