Gricket: Gower in glowing health: Hampshire's enigma excels: Rob Steen reports from Lord's

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The Independent Online
Hampshire 275-8 v Middlesex

SQUINT a bit amid the blissful afternoon sunshine yesterday and those silvery curls were blond once more. The touch, too, was redolent of the budding Adonis who, 17 years ago almost to the day, fashioned his maiden first-class century within the same hallowed portals. With Richards going and Botham gone, it was a distinct relief to know that David Gower is still bearing the torch.

For how much longer is probably down to Ted Dexter and his astrologer, yet there was no doubt who the surprisingly healthy gathering had come to gawp at. They were not disappointed either. When one is proffered a boiled sweet by a steward upon driving through the Nursery End gates nothing that ensues can possibly be considered surprising. All the same, the sight of Gower caressing through the covers and flicking off his hips for three luxuriant hours was a delightful bonus.

The timing was impeccable in every sense. On the opening day of the first Test, Gower made 153 against Nottinghamshire. He was nursing a broken rib during the second Test but returned to contribute 61 and 44 against Gloucestershire while Graham Thorpe was ascending his throne at Nottingham. Yesterday he appeared destined for the 51st century of his career only to drag a wide delivery from Angus Fraser on to his stumps when nine short.

Gower had supplied the glitter to a second-wicket stand of 139 in 52 overs with Sean Morris, who spluttered along with all the urgency of a clapped-out Morris Minor. The latter's devotion to duty was none the less valuable for that, as subsequent events proved.

With Mike Gatting, Mike Roseberry and Mark Ramprakash having notched just one hundred between them, and Neil Williams their only seam bowler to register a five-wicket haul, Middlesex's residency as Championship leaders has a mystifying feel to it.

They do have that priceless knack, however, of picking up runs and wickets at precisely the right time, and this was no exception.

Gower was merely the first of three successive batsmen to play on and John Emburey gnawed away in customary style at the middle order to claim a trio of victims as Hampshire slithered to 216 for 8.