Harvest time for Gatting

Middlesex 305 v The Australians
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The Independent Online
Mike Gatting and Mark Ramprakash, Middlesex captains past and present, kept a large crowd entertained on a gloriously warm day with a stand of 120 that complemented handsomely the return of the sun and the Australians to London yesterday. Delight would have been greater had either man gone on to a century after posting fifties, but that's a minor quibble. The strokes they played against the virtual Australian Test attack quite satisfied the appetites of those present.

Lord's was a pleasant place to be yesterday. MCC and Middlesex members filled their respective enclosures and balconies. The boxes dispensed hospitality, while shirt sleeves and sundresses were the order of the day, making up in colour for what the pitch lacked. That, surrounded by swath of green grass, had about as much colour as bed linen laid out to bleach in the sun, and even less life.

The Australians would have enjoyed batting first on it, while their bowlers will have anticipated a good workout when Ramprakash suggested the tourists field first. One thing they can be confident of - conditions at Headingley won't resemble these when the fourth Test starts there on Thursday. With one change, however - Paul Reiffel for Mike Kasprowicz - the Australian side should resemble the 11 playing in this match. That would mean no place for Michael Bevan and a return to Test cricket for Ricky Ponting.

Mark Taylor, the Australian captain, switched his bowlers throughout the day, replacing Glenn McGrath with Shane Warne as early as the 12th over. McGrath, after conceding nine runs in his opening over, had quickly settled into a tight line and length. Jason Pooley, opening for the first time this summer in the absence of the resting Jacques Kallis, survived a high and hard chance to Mark Waugh's right at second slip when on nine. But McGrath's change of attack to round the wicket soon sorted out the left-hander. Playing to leg he was caught by the elder Waugh twin at midwicket.

Paul Weekes, the other left-handed opener, stayed almost an hour until, going for a second run, he misjudged the accuracy of Jason Gillespie's arm and was well beaten.

This brought in Gatting to face Warne and to bring back memories of that "ball from hell" which has been purgatory for the current England selector since 1993. But this time, pushing out a stately left leg and a straight bat, Gatting countered the leg-spinner combatively and confidently.

Ramprakash was just getting going when Gatting joined him - he needed 38 balls to move into double figures, but it was apparent that this was a setting for him to strut his stuff. His 76 did not disappoint. Sweeping Warne for six, Ramprakash set out a stall on which he showed off his full range of strokes.

The crowd, of something like 8,000, purred at the placement of his drives and roared in delight when he pulled the faster bowlers. A flick off his hips was masterful but, in the same over, Gillespie found the edge of his bat and Ian Healy took one of those superb low catches that he makes look simple.

As for Gatting, he really rolled back the years, punching, thumping and occasionally swatting until he was 15 runs away from his 93rd first-class hundred. Thereupon McGrath bowled him, and the Australians resumed normal service.

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