Storm builds over Johnson

Nottinghamshire 257 & 163 Middlesex 427 Middlesex won by an innings and seven runs
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The Independent Online
The huge black cloud that scudded over the pavilion just as Nottinghamshire stumbled to 15 for three against Middlesex yesterday might have been a symbol of their current predicament. These are dark days for the county of Sobers, Rice and Hadlee. Their fourth successive defeat means they have won one of their last 17 Championship matches, with only Durham beneath them in the table.

It is a wretched record for a side that finished third two seasons ago, and there was an outbreak of restlessness yesterday among those few natives who bothered to attend. Their frustration was directed at Paul Johnson, who has found life so hard since replacing Tim Robinson as captain. His last eight innings have brought a mere 99 runs. Shouts of "Rubbish" and "You're not worth your place" from patrons of the Radcliffe Road end followed him as he departed leg-before to Richard Johnson for a fourth-ball duck.

It was the second wicket of Johnson's opening over, Robinson having preceded him on the slow walk back after touching the first ball to slip. Paul Pollard had already gone cheaply for the second time in the match, and the innings would have been even flimsier had Keith Dutch, making a rare appearance three years after his debut, not put down Usman Afzaal on two - a straightforward chance - and Ashley Metcalfe on 11 - a much sharper one.

That piece of double Dutch allowed the fourth-wicket pair to grind out 71 in 39 overs before Phil Tufnell pitched one in the rough to bowl the left-handed Afzaal.

It was his 50th wicket of a season in which there is, of course, no John Emburey to work the other end. That has meant more opportunity for Paul Weekes, who came on shortly before tea to dismiss Metcalfe and Kevin Evans in successive balls.

Tufnell, bowling 71 overs in the match for 86 runs, had the last word in an enjoyable joust with Chris Cairns, and Richard Johnson ran through the rest for his first five-wicket bag this year. This is a futuristic Middlesex side, with Mark Ramprakash the captain for the first time while Mike Gatting recovers from a cartilage operation, and the 17-year-old Owais Shah leaving an equally good impression on his first-class debut.

In the shorter term, signing the right overseas player to replace Dion Nash should make them a formidable proposition again next season.

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