Bicknell on the button for Surrey

BENSON AND HEDGES CUP: Home counties pair put their Midlands rivals to the sword to reach Lord's final Surrey 308-8 Leicestershire 178 Surrey win by 130 runs
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The Independent Online
England's recent pre-match planning has extended to Martin Bicknell, whose two Tests were against Australia four years ago. In his 10 overs at the start of Leicestershire's innings, he bowled an excellent line at fast-medium, finding movement both ways and took 4 for 41.

This effectively ended Leicestershire's interest in the competition, although it would anyway have needed some remarkable batting if they were to have won. Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe, the engine room of the Surrey batting, had made a Leicestershire victory unlikely with a splendid third- wicket stand of 158 in 32 overs after they had been put in.

Leicestershire had to get off to a good start and they achieved it only insofar as Vince Wells played a lovely cover drive for four in Bicknell's first over. In his second, Darren Maddy played forward to one which left him and was caught behind.

Bicknell, now 28, bowled within himself and with excellent control, keeping the ball up to the bat and bringing the batsmen on to the front foot where they will always be more vulnerable against the new ball when there is any movement.

James Whitaker, who must have regretted his decision to field, also began with a joyful cover drive off Bicknell, but he came forward again to drive the last ball of his fifth over with bat away from pad, and was bowled off the inside edge. That was 28 for 2, and one run later Neil Johnson pushed forward to Chris Lewis and was caught behind.

The score became 32 for 4 when Aftab Habib played a stroke, if one can call it that, which would have won the day's booby prize. Bicknell, for once, bowled a short one outside the off-stump, Habib stepped across and hung out a limp and purposeless bat and gave Thorpe catching practice at first slip.

Wells and Greg MacMillan, who once came down the pitch and smashed Bicknell through extra cover, played a few good strokes. Then, at 68, MacMillan was leg before, half-forward to Ian Salisbury, and, in his last over, Bicknell brought one back which nipped between Wells' bat and pad and hit middle and off. There was no way back for Leicestershire after that.

As it happened, their innings went on longer than it should have done, largely because Thorpe, of all people, put down an absurdly easy catch at extra cover from Paul Nixon off Ben Hollioake when he was 20. Nixon and Tim Mason stayed to put on 75 cheap and cheerful runs for the ninth wicket, with Nixon going past 50 before Thorpe made amends with two good catches.

Surrey did not begin well either. In the first over after a spanking square cut for four, Alistair Brown flashed at Alan Mullally outside the off-stump and was caught behind. Ben Hollioake announced himself with a square drive and a straight drive off David Millns, but then he hit a lazy on-drive against Mullally into the pit of Whitaker's stomach at mid-on. If he had gone through with the stroke, the ball would probably have landed somewhere between Vauxhall and Victoria stations.

Fortunately for Surrey, Stewart and Thorpe now began to bat exactly where they had left off at Edgbaston. Their stand of 158 was the highest for Surrey's third wicket in the competition. Both were then out trying to push it along even faster and the innings ended with some terrific strokes by Adam Hollioake, whose 63 came from 40 balls with four fours and two sixes. It left Leicestershire wringing their hands in more ways than one.