Gatting's thundering reply

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The Independent Online
AT LAST, decent news to report. With England not so much Down Under as down and out at the end of their darkest week, a degree of self-respect was salvaged on this delightful ground yesterday. Chiefly responsible was Mike Gatting who, after two mo nths of batting like an out-of-nick blind man, suddenly turned into something like the plunderer he is every year for Middlesex.

Gatting and John Crawley, rivals for the No.6 berth in the Melbourne Test which starts on Saturday, compiled the highest partnership of the tour - 202 in even time. Crawley fell nine runs short of his hundred, while Gatting marched on to the 83rd first-class century of his career.

By the close of the first day against Queensland, leaders of the Sheffield Shield, England reached 355-5, scored at four an over. The climatic conditions were almost as bizarre as the sight of England in control of a day's cricket. The temperature was 35degrees, but suddenly pellets of ice fell during an extraordinary hailstorm which halted play for 45 minutes. The final overs were played out to thunder and lightning.

One encouraging batting performance does not represent the end of England's problems. Far from it. Their two trouncings by the Australian Academy lads and their abject failure against Zimbabwe still live on in the memory. Of equal concern is a casualty list that has reached epidemic proportions.

Craig White and Joey Benjamin remain in Sydney and Graham Thorpe (groin) and Darren Gough (hamstring) pulled out before the start. It meant they entered this match with just 10 fit players. Alec Stewart was forced to turn out despite a painful back spasmand England were anxious to avoid his having to bat, except in an absolute emergency. A replacement, perhaps two, must surely be summoned, especially to bolster the bowling.

If there has been one problem above all others on this tour, it is lack of consistency in the batting. Only three first-class centuries had been scored before yesterday and England have simply not been able to amass sufficient runs to apply pressure. Here, finally, four of the top five succeeded simultaneously.

Michael Atherton departed early, bowled prodding forward to left-armer Dirk Tazelaar. Graham Gooch reached 50, with few alarms, before giving a catch to gully from the final ball before lunch. Graeme Hick departed shortly after the interval for 49 to a catch at second slip. This cleared the way for Gatting and Crawley to continue their personal duel for the Test spot.

Gatting's experience - certainly not his form - got him the nod in Brisbane, and he might have done enough again. His state of mind has been of as much concern as his lack of runs, and his public pronouncements here have lacked conviction. This has made one wonder whether, at 37, he really believes he can still succeed at the highest level.

Yesterday, however, he opened with his most authoritative stroke of the tour, a clubbing pull through mid-wicket off Tazelaar. Drives, hooks and cuts were mixed with deflections and cuts. Gatting became becalmed around 50 and Crawley, almost 30 runs behind at one stage, caught him up, before Gatting pulled away again.

Crawley enjoyed some luck and his preference for the leg side was again plain to see. He played one memorable shot - a short-arm flick for six off Craig McDermott - and appeared destined for a century before edging to slip. Steve Rhodes was lbw third ball, but England had scored enough surely to be immune from defeat. That is an achievement on this tour.

(First day of four; England won toss)

England - First Innings G A Gooch c Rowell b McDermott 50

*M A Atherton b Tazelaar 6

G A Hick c Love b Rowell 49

M W Gatting not out 114

J P Crawley c Law b Kasprowicz 91

S J Rhodes lbw b Kasprowicz 0

S D Udal not out 14

Extras (b4 lb6 w3 nb18) 31

Total (for 5, 90 overs) 355

Fall: 1-16 2-106 3-118 4-320 5-330.

To bat: A J Stewart, P C R Tufnell, A R C Fraser, D E Malcolm.

Bowling (to date): McDermott 21-3-87-1; Tazelaar 18-4-60-1; Symonds 10-2-51-0; Rowell 21-5-66-1; Kasprowicz 18-2-71-2; Maher 1-0-5-0; Hayden 1-0-5-0.

QUEENSLAND: *I A Healy , T Barsby, M L Hayden, M Love, J Maher, A Symonds, S Law, C J McDermott, D Tazelaar, M Kasprowicz, G Rowell.

Umpires: P Parker and D Holt.