Ramprakash deals with fiery Donald

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The Independent Online
MARTIN JOHNSON

reports from Edgbaston

Warwickshire 282 and 133-4

Middlesex 224

No batsman (no sane one at any rate) would ever own up to looking forward to facing the likes of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, but after two encounters with Allan Donald so far this summer, Mark Ramprakash might already regard his potential duel with the West Indies pace attack as a distinctly less hairy way of making a living.

If England's No 5 position is already shaping up into a straight contest between Ramprakash and John Crawley, Ramprakash's 164 runs in his two innings against Warwickshire will have hurt neither his prospects nor his confidence. Donald was so slippery yesterday, that had Ambrose been bowling in tandem, all the sharp singles would have come from batsmen desperately scrambling to get down to Curtly's end.

Donald was far too good for most of the Middlesex batsmen (figures of 6 for 56 in no way flattered him), and as enforced substitutions go, Donald for Lara is as about as painless as you can get. However, Ramprakash made 79 playing for England A against Donald here last week, an even better 85 yesterday, and on neither occasion did the South African manage to get him out.

Ramprakash's England career began against the West Indies in 1991, when he found it a good deal easier to stay in against Ambrose and Co than he did to score any runs while he was out there. In nine Test innings, Ramprakash batted for close on 18 hours, yet never once managed to score more than 29 runs.

The 1995 model, though, now looks capable of fulfilling the extravagant forecasts made for him when he was a teenager. Ramprakash's ability as a player was once matched only by his ability to rub people up the wrong way, but now he has matured as a human being, a batsman of indecent talent (Angus Fraser rates him more highly than anyone he has ever bowled to) has finally emerged.

Ramprakash calmly negotiated the carnage of Donald's first two spells, which brought the South African all five of the Middlesex wickets to fall for 129 before lunch. Mike Gatting was out to the second ball of the day, caught behind off a delivery which reared up and left him, and it was not the sort of dismissal designed to have subsequent batsmen skipping to the wicket whistling a cheery tune.

Paul Weekes was another to receive an unplayable ball, and the only time Middlesex really prospered was during Donald's rest periods, when Ramprakash tucked in against a rather more friendly Gladstone Small, and some ordinary left-arm spin from Richard Davis. He batted three and a quarter hours for his 85, eventually falling lbw attempting to pull a delivery from Small that was a touch too full for the stroke.

If Donald can continue to perform, and Tim Munton's return from injury is not delayed more than the forecast month, Warwickshire might yet get their hands on some more loot this summer, although it is difficult to predict something similar for the 1994 champions.

Angus Fraser and Dion Nash represent a potentially potent new ball attack, but Fraser's approach to the wicket currently resembles someone who has caught his braces in the sightscreen, and Nash appears to believe that English pitches are 10 yards shorter than anywhere else. By the close, Nick Knight's second half-century of the match had stretched Warwickshire's lead to 191 with six second-innings wickets remaining.

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