Moles digs for a draw

Middlesex 413 Warwickshire 388-5
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The Independent Online
There were only two people here who will remember yesterday's play at all vividly. Andy Moles and Trevor Penney both scored centuries while putting on 235 in 74 overs, and by the time both were out, with the score on 377, Warwickshire were safe from the follow-on and the prospect of a second humiliating defeat in consecutive weeks.

It was one of those Saturdays in county cricket when little happens and players go through the motions. I am not complaining because it is always interesting to see how - or whether - the teams contrive to bring the game to a conclusion on Monday, but it is not surprising so few people share my appreciation of such an arcane business.

Neither captain was willing to take risks yesterday. When bad light stopped play five minutes before the close, Warwickshire were 25 behind Middlesex but with not enough wickets standing to give them much chance to build a lead quickly and offer a tempting target tomorrow.

Watching Warwickshire play for a draw, as they did at Lord's, is not what we have come to expect from the champions, but they are not playing like champions this year. Last week, when he had accepted the inevitability of defeat against Kent, Moles scored a gaudy 76 off 45 balls. At Lord's yesterday, he spent seven-and-a-half hours grinding out a critical 176, with one six and 21 fours. For different reasons, both innings were memorable.

Moles is an interesting figure: literally so, for while his mother would describe him as stately, portly is more accurate. He does not look like an athlete, but he is strong, his timing is marvellous and he is remarkably fleet of foot. Moles is 35, probably too old for him to play for England, but he has a better career average than his colleague Nick Knight, who does.

Despite being Warwickshire's acting captain (both Dermot Reeve and Tim Munton are injured), Moles's sense of drama had not deserted him entirely. To bring up his 50, in seven minutes over two hours, he hit successive boundaries off Richard Johnson - one tickled to fine-leg, the next driven violently through cover - before square-cutting for three.

His century was even more striking. Johnson was bowling again when Moles was on 93, and an inviting delivery just short of a length went for six into the Mound Stand; the next ball was swept down to third-man for a single. By then, Moles had been in for 283 minutes and Warwick-shire were looking a great deal more confident about the draw.

Oddly enough, Penney's century came up in much the same way - with a six into the Mound Stand in his nineties. Each hundred contained a six and 11 fours off 225 balls, though Penney was out immediately after reaching his, clean bowled by Johnson.

Middlesex, runners-up to Warwickshire in the Championship last season, are doing no better. Johnson, forced to withdraw from last winter's England tour with a shoulder problem, has been out of action while recovering from knee-surgery. Yesterday he looked fine but was evidently short of match fitness.

Angus Fraser can no longer reproduce the wonderful rhythmic consistency of his best years, and without Phil Tufnell, Middlesex's attack would have been well short of venomous. In 19 overs before lunch, the left-armer bowled eight maidens, and took the wickets of Dominic Ostler and Wasim Khan for 24 runs. He finished with four wickets, having Moles caught behind off a top edge, and is, surely, still the best spinner in the land.