A ray of light for Mullally

Leicestershire 422 and 176-4 v Northamptonshire 425
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The Independent Online
In bygone years, this was a daggers-drawn, twice-annual Championship fixture ranging from a neighbourly squabble to something resembling tribal warfare. Time has become a great healer, though the contest between Alan Mullally, watched by the England chairman, Ray Illingworth, and Kevin Curran had the sharp tang of ancient rivalry.

So did the duel between Curtly Ambrose and Phil Simmons, who made 72 from 113 balls, as Leicestershire rallied from 31 for three to establish an overall lead of 173. Darren Maddy supported him in a century stand.

Curran, with 30 fours and a six, had plundered a career-best 150 from 219 balls while Mullally did some pillaging of his own with four for 112 for Leicestershire, the joint Championship leaders. It probably cemented his Test place ahead of two possible challengers, Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick, for the Headingley match on Thursday.

Mullally doubtless has faith, allied with a touch of hope, in his selection, but showed John Emburey little charity, dropping in a mean bouncer as well as the odd yorker, a ploy the Northamptonshire coach still counters with two feet airborne and a rooted bat.

Emburey was in a time warp, relishing the days of four points for a first- innings lead, such was his commitment to guiding his team to a three-run advantage. This slender benefit owed much to Curran's flamboyance and the patience of Tony Penberthy, who made 87 in three and a half hours, and Jeremy Snape.

Contrary to popular belief, Leicestershire, among others, might not have seen the end of Emburey, the off-spinner, who might just play on next summer, especially as Anil Kumble, the Indian leg-spinner, will not return. Kumble took 105 Championship wickets last season and wants a break, which puts a finer point on Northamptonshire's present negotiations with Ambrose for 1997.

Any conception that this match would be easy became pure fantasy for Leicestershire against the next-to-bottom team lacking the batsmen Rob Bailey, Russell Warren, Richard Montgomerie and David Sales.

Leicestershire were without James Whitaker, and Mullally was without David Millns as a new ball compatriot. Working in tandem has been their strength, but Millns had a back strain, leaving Mullally to whirl through 38 overs.

Leicestershire are into buzz-words, bonding and huddles after they take wickets. Apparently it began with the second team, the special word being "completion" when an opposing batsman retraces his steps.

Despite Mullally's bounding run-up and occasional lightning-quick deliveries, the familiar edge was missing from the attack. Curran and Penberthy added 226 for the fifth wicket, a big batting statement in the context of Leicestershire's later difficulties.

The vibrations were that Illingworth had Vince Wells on his Test check list. Whatever the former Kent player achieves, his exploits in scoring three double hundreds together with an innings of 197 during the past six weeks should be acknowledged.

They must be better commemorated than those of CJB Wood, one of his Leicestershire opening bat predecessors. The original completed scorecard from Bradford in 1911, showing Wood's feat of being the only batsman in history to make a century in each innings and carry his bat in both, survives. It is in the Grace Road Members' Bar, but hidden by a cigarette machine.