Gatting forces the issue

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reports from Uxbridge

Northamptonshire 479 & 13-1 Middlesex 351-4 dec

Mike Gatting has done his best to try and force a definite result by declaring as soon as Middlesex had claimed their fourth batting point, although North-amptonshire still led by 128 runs.

It is now up to Allan Lamb to respond with a final target which, if he gets it right, might just cause Middlesex to self-destruct and, after Warwickshire's victory, Middlesex will have to go all the way to win.

The flat, unforgiving pitch had effectively anaesthetised the wrist spin of Anil Kumble, and predictably Mark Ramprakash and Gatting took their toll on the third day until the amiable off-spinner, Jeremy Snape, removed them both.

Since his pair in the second Test match at Lord's, Ramprakash has made six centuries - three doubles and three singles - in 11 innings. There is more than just a passing parallel with Graeme Hick who, during his unhappy times with England, has returned to county cricket and caused similar mayhem. Playing for Middlesex, Ramprakash looks a Test cricketer; playing for England he has not, as yet.

Gatting must wish Middlesex played all their games at Park Road. When he made 39, he had completed 2,000 runs on the ground at an average of just over 60. Small wonder the road leading to the members entrance is called Gatting Way.

There was a disarming certainty about Ramprakash's innings. His judgement of length and his footwork were excellent, and there were no half measures about his strokes. He drove with style; off the back foot he was no less decisive and elegant, and the only surprise in his entire innings came when he suddenly rushed down the pitch to the first ball of Snape's third over yesterday, pushed defensively, and was stumped by a yard and a half.

Gatting cut an increasingly Falstaffian figure as his barrel chest gains in circumference. He was in fine form and played Kumble better than anyone. He was quick to drive, wasted no opportunity to square cut, and played one rollicking square drive, all of which added to Northamptonshire's frustration.

Jason Pooley and Ramprakash added another 47 in the morning, before Pooley played forward to Kumble and was caught at slip. Ramprakash and Gatting then put on 137 in 29 overs. Kumble bowled his fingers to the bone - 1 for 127 in 39 overs - against batsmen who refused to be trapped on the back foot by deceptive top spin.

Soon after tea, Gatting took a step out to Snape, drove, and was caught on the boundary behind the bowler. John Carr and Keith Brown then took Middlesex to 350 and the declaration. After that, Middlesex bowled their two off-spinners to prevent bad light calling a halt.

Lancashire on brink of victory, Scoreboard, page 26