Northamptonshire look to Kumble

COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP: Middlesex chase large total while Warwickshire battle to retain title
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The Independent Online

reports from Uxbridge

Northamptonshire 479 Middlesex 57-1

There was a certain inevitability about the first day and threequarters, as Northamptonshire batted themselves almost to 500. When Middlesex began their reply at 10 minutes to five on the second day, it was as if the preliminaries had ended and the battle had now been well and truly joined.

With their highly competent attack, Northamptonshire had surely made themselves safe from defeat on this easy paced and flat pitch. Their trump card surely has to be Anil Kumble, who already has 91 first-class wickets to his name this season. If he can find his way through the early Middlesex batting, he may induce panic - or so Northamptonshire will be hoping. On the other hand, Middlesex will have in mind a hundred from Mike Gatting and maybe a double century from Mark Ramprakash.

Allan Lamb could not wait to bring on Kumble, who had just made a robust and jolly 38, and he was asked to bowl the first over of the Middlesex innings. It is never easy for a wrist spinner to use a new ball, as it is so difficult for him to grip.

Middlesex open with two left-handers, and Kumble bowled his first ball to Paul Weekes, who was surrounded by four close fielders. A leg bye from the first ball brought Jason Pooley to the business end, and pushing forward, he speared the next ball to third man for four.

While Lamb scratched his head, Paul Taylor bowled the second over. The third was given to Kevin Curran, Kumble went to mid on, and a daring experiment had sadly been almost stillborn.

As it was, the breakthrough came for Northamptonshire in the eighth over, when Pooley pushed forward and followed one from Taylor and was caught by Rob Bailey at second slip. In these opening exchanges, the outstanding stroke had been a short-arm pull for four by Weekes off Curran.

Kumble came back for the 13th over and bowled four which produced 15 runs before bad light intervened. A pull through square leg for four from Ramprakash just before the end may have been the most likely clue to the way the match will now go.

The first part of this second day went so well for Northamptonshire that they looked like finishing with nearer 600 than 500. Bailey reached his 100 off the ninth ball of the morning, but at 363 he was well caught by John Carr at slip off Dion Nash. Bailey had faced 308 balls for his 157, hitting 11 fours and two sixes in an innings which was watched by Test selector Fred Titmus, and made one wonder if he might not still have a part to play for England.

After Bailey's dismissal, Northamptonshire did not capitalise and wickets fell now to careless strokes, leaving them short of 500. Philip Tufnell twisted his ankle after he had bowled six overs in the morning.