Cricket: Stephenson rockets

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The Independent Culture
Hampshire 267 & 112-5; Sussex 279

FOR the best part of yesterday morning Franklyn Stephenson swept down the hill at Hove and put Hampshire well and truly on the back foot. But half an hour before lunch the showers that had been hanging in the wind swept up from the sea and the spectators were on their way back home.

Their action was understandable: rain was forecast and it was FA Cup final day. Yet until the bad weather set in, the morning's play had held a certain fascination as the Sussex captain, Alan Wells, attacked Hampshire with a combination of seam and spin.

Initially Stephenson and Salisbury were the alliterative pair, and it was the big West Indian fast bowler who dominated events with four wickets for 25 in 11.3 overs. Robin Smith, top-edging a misguided hook to the wicketkeeper, Peter Moores, gave Stephenson his 10th wicket of the match and had Hampshire looking as much to the heavens for salvation as to their lower order.

Two fluctuating days had left Hampshire resuming yesterday 32 runs ahead with nine wickets in hand. When the rains came they were just 100 on for the loss of their top five. It took Sean Morris 20 minutes to avoid a pair, in which time Stephenson tested his reflexes and he survived a confident appeal at bat-pad off Ian Salisbury. But the turned-down appeal that counted was for caught behind against Tony Middleton, which the umpire Vanburn Holder denied Stephenson. He and Moores were half-way through their high-fives when the penny dropped.

Stephenson's long slow stare was unnecessary. Middleton knew the bowler's dander was up, and the subsequent bouncer was predictable. Middleton's deliveries, however, were numbered, even if it took a lovely catch by Jamie Hall, low and one-handed to his left at point, to send the Hampshire opener back. Morris then wafted woefully at a ball that left him as it lifted, and Mark Nicholas was about as much support to Smith as a snapped suspender.

In fact, Hampshire's captain might have found a suspender useful to keep his legs closer together. Such was the straddle in his stance that he looked incapable of going back properly if Stephenson dug the ball in short, and so it proved. The dollied catch which Bill Athey held, running in from gulley, came from a parry unrecognised in the defensive canon, and brought Stephenson his third wicket in 12 balls.