Tufnell stakes strong claim

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The Independent Online
By Stephen Fay

at Lord's

Middlesex 410 and 201

Kent 265 and 37-2

YOU had to strain a bit to hear it, but the sound echoing round Lord's yesterday was a hiccup. Middlesex have risen up through the Championship table with the smooth efficiency, say, of a Japanese car maker and Kent were supposed to expire gently in three days, giving Middlesex enough points to move to the top of the table. Somehow, they failed to get the message.

For a start, unlike the last three counties to play at Lord's, Kent avoided the follow-on, scoring 265, five more than was required. Then, when Middlesex intended to score quickly so that they could make a strategic declaration before the close, Kent had the cheek to bowl them out for 201.

Only when they began to chase 347 to win did Kent start to play according to plan. Their first two wickets fell for eight runs and they were still 309 runs behind at the close. It looks as if Middlesex will get to the top on Monday. Despite yesterday's hiccup, they are the classiest team in the Championship.

There is only one potential storm warning in the forecast. Aravinda de Silva, one of the few batsmen capable of intimidating Middlesex's bowlers, is 16 not out and batting beautifully.

De Silva was the main reason why Kent saved the follow-on and the only startling thing about his first innings was that he did not make a century.

Phil Tufnell seemed most to deserve his wicket, but it was Dion Nash's extra pace with the new ball that eventually got de Silva out, for 88, in four hours with only seven boundaries.

Nash is now Middlesex's leading wicket taker in the Championship (47 wickets), but Tufnell had the best figures (4 for 73) and he deserved them. John Emburey bowled briefly at the other end, getting the important wicket of Steve Marsh, but there was no doubt who ought to be bowling for England. Tufnell should, as Angus Fraser does and Richard Johnson will.

The Middlesex batsmen exhibited a mixture of over-confidence and anxiety; eight were caught and none of them by the wicketkeeper. Mike Gatting (42), Mark Ramprakash (34) and John Carr (30) played themselves in and got themselves out to a surfeit of flash and dash. With seven wickets down, the lead was still less than 300, but Emburey's broad, cross bat and Angus Fraser dancing down the wicket like a carthorse on holiday added enough runs to make the margin look comfortable. A good day for bowlers.