A war is being fought on several fronts in the genteel surrounds of Southgate. On the first day at the Walker Ground it seemed merely a matter of Middlesex and Essex vying for the leadership of the County Championship Division Two.
Then came a verbal duel between Ronnie Irani and Phil Tufnell which led to the umpires telling the two captains to maintain order in the ranks and reporting to the generals at Lord's. Yesterday it was the turn of the all-rounders to do battle for supremacy.
Irani, always combative and successfully restored to inter-national duty, remained unbeaten on 182 in just over eight hours with 20 boundaries as Essex reached 441 in reply to their hosts' first-innings 538.
This represented a considerable achievement for a side which had lost their last two games having won five in a row. Their batting was indifferent in the absence of Irani during the NatWest Series, and they had been reduced to 7 for 3 as they began the long haul back into this match.
Matching Irani's marathon effort was the Pakistan all-rounder Abdur Razzaq, who took 7 for 133 with his darting seamers. Middlesex went on to 116 for 1 with skipper Andrew Strauss on 55 not out, establishing a lead of 213.
The only unbeaten county in either division, Middlesex have also garnered the most batting points, but they may relinquish their top spot if they fail to win and Worcestershire, standing second in the batting lists, beat Northamptonshire at New Road. Australian Mike Hussey was finally dislodged for 174 as the visitors were all out for 387. Worcestershire's top order are in top form, and after Anurag Singh had made 51, Ben Smith, with 104 not out off 174 balls with 18 fours, and Vikram Solanki, with 91 off 122 balls with 14 fours, settled into a fourth-wicket partnership of 188 as Worcestershire reached 273 for 3 before the rain came.
Gloucestershire have only beaten Glamorgan once in the last 10 years, and with captain Mark Alleyne and the veteran run-gatherer Kim Barnett missing through injury, their prospects looked bleak at Cheltenham after two of their top order were packed off to hospital with head injuries.
Gloucestershire signed Ian Fisher from Yorkshire for his slow left-armers rather than his batting, but against Essex last month he and Jack Russell put on 207 for the seventh wicket, with Fisher recording an unbeaten maiden first-class hundred. Yesterday, after Russell had departed for 84, Fisher stood firm again for 79 not out in a total of 438. And England's spinner all-rounder Jeremy Snape cannot get his name on the team sheet. On a fast pitch, Glamorgan's reply progressed to 204 for 4.
Dominic Cork celebrated his England recall with three wickets as Nottinghamshire collapsed to 182 for 8 at Derby in reply to Derbyshire's 353. But it was the former Trent Bridge player Mathew Dowman who relished their fall the most. Nottinghamshire were well placed on 156 for 3 when his military-medium pace bowled Usman Afzaal for 58. He grabbed 3 for 16, but Kevin Pietersen was unbeaten on 72 when the weather intervened.
At Edgbaston, West Indies A had reached 123 for 1 against Warwickshire when the heavens opened. The former Test opener Daren Ganga was undefeated on 51, while his partner Devon Smith made 46.
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