Middlesex capitulate on worn surface

Middlesex are long used to having run-ins with their landlords, MCC, but a new nadir could be reached after Hampshire beat them by seven wickets in this NatWest Trophy quarter-final yesterday on a pitch being used, shamefully for the world's most famous ground, for the third time in 16 days.

Middlesex are long used to having run-ins with their landlords, MCC, but a new nadir could be reached after Hampshire beat them by seven wickets in this NatWest Trophy quarter-final yesterday on a pitch being used, shamefully for the world's most famous ground, for the third time in 16 days.

The surface, already over-dry when last used on Saturday for the one-day series final between England and Zimbabwe, was not wholly to blame, but batsmen should be entitled to play on a decent pitch once in a while. That this is now an increasingly rare occurrence was evidenced by the manner the home side lost wickets in ways that did not suggest the slightest remorse.

Inserted by Robin Smith, itself a bizarre decision on a wearing pitch with the world's finest spinner up your sleeve, Middlesex found themselves 57 for 5 in the 19th over. Chief destroyer, or at least he would have been had there been anything fearsome about him, was the opening bowler Dimitri Mascarenhas, whose 10 overs, reeled off in succession, brought him 4 for 25 as well as the man of the match award.

It was a NatWest best for Mascarenhas, who skilfully mixed up his pace and swing to have more than one batsman, including Mark Ramprakash, playing too early. The effectiveness of this tactic was to persuade the home side that their hopes of setting a competitive total (180 would probably have done it) was a hopeless one.

Not everyone looked as ropey as the pitch, and Andrew Strauss, formerly of Durham University, played a decent cut or two before being caught and bowled by Alan Mullally for 24. The delivery initially looked as if it was another well disguised slower ball, but as Mullally is not usually known for his subtlety so early in the day it probably just went through the top.

Justin Langer, batting lower than he might at five, could not prevent the slip becoming a slide. Facing Mascarenhas, he chopped on, playing a dab of indeterminate origin. Paul Weekes and Aaron Laraman followed soon after, the latter unluckily lbw to Shane Warne after the leg-spinner turned one into an outstretched front pad during his opening over.

Warne departs for Australia after Hampshire's one-day match against Derbyshire on 6 August to play in three one-day matches against South Africa in Melbourne. He will return, as you would expect of the highest-paid cricketer in England, though not in time for the Natwest semi-finals on 12 and 13 August. Judged by the way he pulled up clutching his left knee during his eighth over, Australia will not get him in the best of nick, and his 10 overs brought the modest return of 2 for 38. In fact, it was by slogging Warne that the Middlesex tail, marshalled by Keith Dutch (26 from 64 balls) and wagged by Richard Johnson (21 from 27 balls), took the score past a hundred.

Hampshire's reply was to play shots, and John Stephenson struck two fours off the first over. If the rest of his innings was not quite as explosive, he and opening partner Giles White broke the back of the chase by putting on 50 together.

With the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, having the power to ask counties to rest or play cricketers in different roles, one wonders whether Warne's promotion to three, with the matches against South Africa imminent, was done at the behest of the Australian Cricket Board? Like his decision to bowl first, only Robin Smith can answer that, but Warne's quick 20, followed by an equally brisk stand of 46 between Jason Laney and Will Kendall, proved enough.

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