Ramprakash still on honeymoon

Northants 216 & 168-6 Middlesex 531
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The Independent Online
There cannot be all that many county captains who, in their match in the official role, have had the pleasure of knocking on their opponents' dressing-room door and inviting them to follow on. It will not always be that easy, but Mark Ramprakash has had a wonderful start against Northamptonshire, all but winning the match in three days.

In all honesty, he did not have much to do in the field; the Northamptonshire batsmen did it for him. On the third morning, their last six-first innings wickets capitulated with indecent haste. Only Kevin Curran, who looks in excellent form, offered serious resistance - no one else reached double figures.

James Hewitt was rewarded for his admirable persistence by his first haul of five wickets in a Championship innings. Northamptonshire were then finished off by Richard Johnson who took 3 for 4 in 21 balls. Quite simply, Northamptonshire were awful.

They were no better at the second attempt either, although their initial breakthrough may have been longer in coming. Richard Montgomery was yet another lbw on the front foot to Johnson , before a stand of purely defensive intent between Rob Bailey and David Roberts was ended just before tea. Jacques Kallis had the former well caught at second slip driving, the latter caught behind cutting.

After tea it was Phil Tufnell who gave the ball rather more air than he had dared earlier and was the better for it. A slower ball which floated on with the arm accounted for Tony Penberthy. Curran was brilliantly caught at slip off a well-pitched leg break and another arm ball had Tim Walton lbw playing no stroke. Tufnell had taken 3 for 4 in 14 balls and it was a good argument to put before the selectors.

Ramprakash will win few better tosses than this one on Thursday. On a flat, easy-paced pitch he put together a workmanlike hundred. It was not one of his best, functional rather than brilliant, while his predecessor, Mike Gatting, compiled another at the other end - largely from memory.

Their runs came after the best of the three Middlesex hundreds, by Kallis - his first in a Championship match. The effect of all this must have been to give Middlesex a much-needed boost to their confidence after their fairly indifferent start to the season.

This result will make it easier for Ramprakash to settle in his new job while Gatting, whose advice will be so important, is well on the way to finding a new lease of life now that he has been relieved of the job which had turned his beard grey.

It will not always be like this for Ramprakash. He will be asked to show his mettle soon enough when another side is treating his bowlers as Middlesex have done Northamptonshire's. It is then that his tactical know-how will come into focus.

How will he conduct damage-limitation exercises? What sort of atmosphere will he create in the dressing-room? In times of crisis, will his colleagues give him their full support? But this start must have given him the confidence to lead from the front and he can be grateful for that.

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