Tormenting Tufnell takes six of the best

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The Independent Online

After another savaging from the elements, Northamptonshire and Middlesex were hard pressed to lend meaning to their presence here once first innings were complete, and little was lost when an early-afternoon thunderstorm left enough hailstones on the field for the groundstaff to engage the umpires in a snowball fight.

After another savaging from the elements, Northamptonshire and Middlesex were hard pressed to lend meaning to their presence here once first innings were complete, and little was lost when an early-afternoon thunderstorm left enough hailstones on the field for the groundstaff to engage the umpires in a snowball fight.

It was all Allan Jones and John Hampshire needed to decide not to persevere with a contest going nowhere, though happily the weather held off long enough to allow Phil Tuf-nell to turn in his best Championship figures for four years.

The 34-year-old left-arm spinner, omitted from the list of players contracted to England this summer after a disappointing winter tour, collected two of the three outstanding wickets as Middlesex restricted the home side to 54 additional runs when their first innings resumed at 265 for 7.

Tufnell dismissed Michael Davies to a top-edged sweep, and Devon Malcolm, nudging to slip, with the first and last balls of his 38th over for figures of 6 for 92, his best in domestic cricket since he took seven against Lancashire at Old Trafford in September 1996.

It was just reward for some beautiful bowling by The Cat, who perhaps should be known now as the Fat Cat after his lucrative benefit last year. England's eagerness to develop Chris Schofield as their front-line slow bowler does not augur well for Tufnell's international prospects but his performance on the second day - Friday was a complete wash-out - served as a reminder that there are few better practitioners of hisvariety of the spinner's art.

Challenging his opponents with subtle changes of pace and flight, he teased out Matthew Hayden and Mal Loye just as both seemed well set, and then produced a perfectly disguised arm ball for the dangerous David Sales, a trick he repeated later to fox Richard Logan.

In conversation afterwards, he was inclined to be all shrugs and modesty. "It was coming out of the hand quite nicely," he said. "It is nice to get a good long bowl and a few wickets under your belt. It felt all right, yes - a pleasing performance."

And enquiries about England prompted classic football-speak, something which will become increasingly common as promotion issues take centre stage. "I'm just happy to be playing for Middlesex," he said. "I'll just focus on trying to get us up and anything else will be a bonus." David Beckham would be proud of him.

Richard Johnson was frustrated by two dropped catches of varying difficulty and another that only just failed to go to hand, but Tim Bloomfield's 4 for 46 was deserved reward for some consistent accuracy and movement off the seam.

David Ripley's half-century took his side most of the way to a third batting point and a lead of 102 but in the absence of an early breakthrough by Northamptonshire, when Middlesex batted again the match itself did not have a chance.

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