First day of four: Somerset (157-5) trail Middlesex (204) by 47 runs
A ROBUST and absorbing day's cricket ended with honours almost even. Not until 7.24 was the last ball bowled, whereupon the players trooped off, the batsmen to lick their wounds and the fast bowlers to prepare for more work.
It was a day dominated by pacemen relishing a hard pitch. The ball repeatedly thudded into the wicketkeeper's gloves. Runs were scored with hooks and cuts, and wickets fell to slip catches. Only during a forthright partnership between Richard Harden and Mark Lathwell did the bat hold sway.
It was not a bad toss for the visitors to lose because the pitch was fresh and the sun hazy. At first they bowled too short, and were lucky to find Justin Langer in nibbling mode. Mike Gatting took his place, promoted because his captain's bruised finger had not recovered. Soon he was cutting away as Graeme Rose lost his length. Meanwhile, Richard Kettleborough moved determinedly on to the back foot.
Presently the bowlers found their length, whereupon the frailty of Middlesex's batting was confirmed as Gatting and David Nash tickled into the cordon, the faces of their bat open, and Owais Shah swished indiscreetly, as Rose deservedly took three wickets in 12 balls. Next, Brown was held at third slip. Somerset's catching had been admirable, and soon rose to fresh heights as Keith Parsons flung himself from gully to hold a full-blooded cut, thereby ending Kettleborough's doughty resistance as Middlesex tottered to 73 for six.
Hard as they tried, the hosts could not recover. Richard Johnson drove powerfully until a back-foot stroke was taken at cover. Paul Weekes clipped neatly off his pads and James Hewitt collected brightly. But wickets continued to tumble, mostly to smartly-taken slip catches taken off Mushtaq's googly.
Somerset also started shakily. Michael Burns was beaten by pace, Peter Bowler was caught behind off the inside edge, and Parsons pushed across a fast one.
Now came the partnership between Harden and Lathwell that gave Somerset an advantage. Harden batted with his customary pragmatism, hitting strongly off both feet, as the bowlers strayed. Lathwell was shy and compelling as he played some superb strokes off the back foot, including a straight drive to the pavilion.
The pair took the score to 142, whereupon Johnson breathed fresh life into his team by breaking through Harden's defences. He struck again immediately as Robert Turner pushed tentatively to short leg to leave the match hanging in the balance.
Day 2: Lathwell helps defy predictions
By Peter Roebuck at Lord's
Second day of four: Middlesex (204 & 151-3) lead Somerset (253) by 102 runs
A TIGHT match continues to move towards a conclusion still beyond prediction. Each team has had its heroes. Richard Johnson and Justin Langer kept the hosts in the hunt, Johnson with 23 overs of sustained hostility and the antipodean with a typically neat and nimble innings. Mark Lathwell and Andrew Caddick, meanwhile, kept Somerset's hopes alive, the Devonian with a resourceful innings and Caddick with a rousing burst in the twilight.
Throughout the cricket was keen and sometimes it was fierce. Only the abysmal over rates and belated start provoked dismay, the day beginning 75 minutes late despite a storm's failure to break and ending at 7.18pm. The duel between Lathwell, fighting for his place in the team, and home pacemen was particularly diverting.
Middlesex bowled to a fuller length, took two immediate wickets and with might and main set out to restrict the visitors' lead. Lathwell was their match and found helpful partners in Graeme Rose and Mushtaq Ahmed. At last Lathwell fell as Johnson went around the wicket. He had batted for 245 minutes. Not bad for Somerset's eighth-choice batsman. The Cidermen led by 49.
Middlesex began confidently against some erratic bowling and soon the arrears were cleared. At 42 Richard Kettleborough fell as Caddick tried his luck from around the wicket. Undeterred, Middlesex moved confidently to their century whereupon Caddick re- turned from the pavilion end and promptly yorked Mike Gatting and drove Owais Shah back on to the stumps to complete a rotten match for the youngster.
But Langer held firm, cutting and deflecting capably as he reached his highest score for his adopted county. David Nash, who had fielded in an appalling cap, gave staunch support, surviving Caddick's bumpers in his diminutive way and generally thwarting an attack intent upon seizing the hour. By stumps Middlesex led by 102 and were the happier side.
Day 3: Somerset stunned by Fraser's late burst
By Peter Roebuck at Lord's
Third day of four: Somerset (253 & 50-6) need 352 runs to beat Middlesex (204 & 450-4 dec)
AN innings of the highest class from Justin Langer and a burst of four wickets in 25 balls by Angus Fraser have given Middlesex command of this match.
Langer's unbeaten 233 off 369 balls, including 33 fours and a six, boasted cuts, pulls and full-blooded drives aplenty. In between he kept the board moving along with deft deflections and alert running.
Langer's footwork was precise, his fitness impressive, his judgment unwavering and his placements superb during 533 minutes at the crease. He was a man in harmony with his surroundings. It was a most compelling contribution.
It was enough to earn Langer his county cap. England will see more of him because he is likely to bat at first wicket down for his country in the next Ashes series. His best days lie ahead.
Not that Langer worked alone. Admirable support was lent by David Nash (114), the perky cricketer with a tap dancer's feet. Nash drove with surprising power, clipped regularly through midwicket, scurried singles and moved confidently down the pitch to place Mushtaq Ahmed into gaps. Nash later fielded in a pristine cap.
Throughout the morning this pair kept the score rattling along. Nash reached the second century of his career in 212 balls. He had played uncommonly well. At last the partnership was broken as the 20-year-old guided the second new ball into the slips. Keith Brown was soon collecting cannily as the bowlers continued to toil on a pitch that had lost some of its enthusiasm.
Langer continued collecting with unbroken rhythm. Indeed he might still be batting had not Middlesex felt obliged to declare. After tea the hosts attacked with gusto, Brown reverse sweeping Keith Parsons' medium pace and his partner driving six over long on. Finally Middlesex called it a day and set about polishing off their opponents.
Somerset began calamitously, as their curiously constructed top order was overwhelmed. Michael Burns edged James Hewitt to slip and Parsons was held at gully off Richard Johnson. Richard Harden became the first of Fraser's victims, lbw playing no shot, before Peter Bowler edged to slip.
Rob Turner was caught by Nash and Fraser's searing burst brought a fourth wicket when nightwatchman Kevin Shine was brilliantly held at fourth slip.
A working party has been formed by Lord's to review the thorny issue of contracting England players to the central board.
Don Trangmar, Sussex's chairman-elect, will head up a nine-strong review group which includes England seamer Angus Fraser, former England opener Martyn Moxon and MP Kate Hoey.
The group will study the issue of compensation for counties, the demands on international players, and the viability of setting up England and Wales Cricket Board contracts.
Day 4: Somerset are left to lick their wounds
By Peter Roebuck at Lord's
NOT even another superb innings from Mark Lathwell could prevent Middlesex securing their first championship win of the season. Soon after lunch it was over as Lathwell, erring at last, drove loosely and was caught behind to end an innings embracing 188 minutes. At least Somerset had fought to the end, their last-wicket pair adding 57 runs as their opponents grew distracted. Nevertheless, to be bowled out for 190 on such a benevolent pitch was a poor effort.
It was a compelling performance by the Londoners, sustained by Justin Langer's splendidly crafted innings and by some hostile pace bowling. Doubtless John Buchanan, their new coach, was pleased as he sat in the pavilion recording every ball on his screen. It is no small matter to convince cricketers, or journalists, that computers do not bite. A bit of success can go a long way.
Lathwell batted extraordinarily well for a fellow playing only because Simon Ecclestone and Piran Holloway were injured. He is a most engaging cricketer, as shy as a badger, but he bats with a rare mixture of economy, timing and power. Repeatedly he stepped back to hook through midwicket and occasionally he moved forwards to drive with wristy panache. Now Somerset must decide where to bat him. He had seemed to be an opener born and bred but appeared comfortable in his new berth.
No one stayed long with the Devonian. Upon play resuming, Marcus Trescothick was athletically caught at point as he worked to leg. Graham Rose was held under his chin to give Phil Tufnell his first wicket of the season. Soon Mushtaq Ahmed was taken in the covers. Mushtaq's contribution had been notably swashbuckling and he seemed determined to test his opponents abilities under the high ball. Neither Richard Johnson nor Paul Weekes could hang on to spiralling chances, which was entertaining enough, though it paled beside the enjoyment derived 30 minutes later from the sight of a certain England selector hovering under a skier offered by Andrew Caddick. Suffice to say that, despite numerous manouevres, Mike Gatting was unable to impede the downward progress of the ball, nor did he ever appear likely to do so.
It did not matter. Presently, the match was over. Middlesex had played as well as any Sheffield Shield side. Richard Johnson is a strong bowler with plenty of pace. Angus Fraser's burst on Friday evening was decisive, though he could not recapture his rhythm yesterday.
James Hewitt improved as the match went along and his confidence is returning. Tufnell started rustily but took wickets and Weekes is a lively cricketer capable of contributing with bat and ball.
Notions that Middlesex's batting was fragile did not survive the match. David Nash emerged as a skilful and determined batsman with runs in him and Keith Brown can be relied upon. Brown hurt a hamstring in the warm-ups and did not field yesterday. Richard Kettleborough also batted impressively. These Yorkshiremen pop up all over the place.
Only Owais Shah failed, his flamboyant backlift letting him down. Gatting scraped a few runs but his time is almost up.
Already Langer is proving his worth as an energetic and committed cricketer. His fortunes have waxed and waned, from academy to Test team and, after some brave but hesitant performances, back to the examination of Shield cricket. His range of shots surprised much more than his unwavering concentration; after all, he has scored five double centuries. Hereafter, he will not have much time to complete his daily contributions to the Internet.
Somerset were left to lick their wounds. They seem vulnerable in places, especially at the top of the order. Nothing is more important to a team than a productive opening pair, in which department Somerset have been found wanting for a few seasons. Already, Dermot Reeve has brought buoyancy and versatility to his team. Now he must work upon the skills of his batsmen and restore those whose confidence is in their boots. Nor was the visitors' bowling beyond reproach and they may soon introduce Matthew Bulbeck, a young left-arm paceman from their academy. Here, they were exposed by a powerful team. In the long run, it may do them no harm.