Weekes sparkles for new-look Middlesex

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BENSON AND HEDGES CUP CRICKET: Holders collapse at the last while Hampshire and Northamptonshire are easily overhauled

Hampshire 208-8

Middlesex 212-4

(Middlesex win by 6 wickets)

A Benson and Hedges match on a Sunday may have been a novel way of starting a new season at Lord's, although it produced an interesting day's cricket which Middlesex won with 3.3 overs to spare.

Hampshire, who were put in to bat, were given a good start by Paul Terry and John Stephenson. But their opening stand of 94 took 29 overs, which put the later batsmen under too much pressure and, against steady Middlesex bowling, Hampshire only just managed to pass 200.

Middlesex also began well with their new opening partnership of Mike Gatting and Jason Pooley, who added 73 in 21 overs. There was one slight hiccup after tea when Stephenson had Gatting and John Carr lbw in the same over. By then, though, Mark Ramprakash had played himself in with composure and, with Paul Weekes, who produced some exciting strokes off the front foot, took Middlesex to within 16 runs of their target in atrocious light.

Weekes made 46 handsome runs off 52 balls, and having taken two wickets with his off-breaks showed that he is developing into a formidable player. Ramprakash completed a fine 50 off the last ball of the match.

While the cricket was entertaining enough without always being of tip- top quality, it took a little time to grow accustomed to the changes in personnel on both sides.

The usual game of close-season cricketing musical chairs has left Essex's John Stephenson wearing Hampshire colours, along with Zimbabwe's opening bowler, Heath Streak. Middlesex have been joined this year by Dion Nash, the New Zealand seamer who took 11 wickets for his country in the second Test at Lord's last year. Another newcomer is David Follett, a much travelled 25-year-old seam bowler from Staffordshire, who has also played second XI cricket for Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Essex.

The Hampshire innings was given a good base by Stephenson and Terry, who brought up the 50 in 15 overs. They both played some nice off-side strokes early on against Angus Fraser, who dropped at once into his length and line, and Mark Feltham, who was rather less demanding from the Nursery End.

Nash then had a spell from the Pavilion end which was steady without him threatening to repeat any of the problems he had caused England last June. The most interesting spell came from Follett, who runs in for 18 paces and works up a deceptive speed which seems to come from a smooth run-up and a broad pair of shoulders. He bowls a good yorker too.

John Emburey broke the opening stand when he persuaded Terry to sweep at the wrong ball. After this, the innings stagnated as Stephenson, who won the gold award, found it increasingly difficult to get the ball away. Emburey bowled a tight spell, Nash and Follett took their first wickets for Middlesex and Hampshire's score never seemed likely to be enough.