Briers' purple patch

Worcestershire 279 and 281-7 Leicestershire 359
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The Independent Online
LAST season Leicestershire managed to finish second in the Championship despite losing seven games out of 17. "When we were bad, we were horrid," their captain Nigel Briers said. For much of yesterday, they were very good, establishing a position as narrow favourites on the back of Briers's last-wicket partnership of 122 with Adrian Pierson.

That last stand transformed an anticipated first-innings deficit into a lead of 80, whereupon the born-again leg-spinner Vince Clarke removed Graeme Hick and Tom Moody in successive overs to continue a notable Championship debut for his new county. Though Gavin Haynes, David Leatherdale and Steve Rhodes resisted well, the latter pair gave their wickets away to leave the home side needing Richard Illingworth to spin them to a victory tomorrow.

From 93F the previous day the temperature sank like Worcestershire hearts. Having wilted in the heat as Briers and Pierson added an unbeaten 97 in Friday's last session, they took the field yesterday with sweaters and the skyline so overcast that two lights were already glinting on the scoreboard. Worse, it required eight more overs to close the innings.

By which time Pierson, the hero with both bat and ball of last Wednesday's NatWest Trophy victory over Hampshire had made 40. The veteran Briers appears determined to prove that the good life begins at 40. He was at the crease seven and a half hours for his unbeaten 175, all but yesterday's 35 minutes of it in sweltering heat. He hit 22 fours while carrying his bat for the fourth time in six seasons; the only statistic not available was his weight loss.

Tim Curtis would give blood as well as sweat for an innings of such magnitude. Relinquishing the captaincy three weeks ago may have been a burden lifted, but there is no evidence of it yet in the scorebook, for he has been shorter of runs than earlier in the season, with a championship average of barely 25. It dipped further when he was leg before to Gordon Parsons for nine, shuffling across his stumps.

Philip Weston dabbed indeterminately at Alamgir Sheriyar and so at lunch Worcestershire looked more dependent than ever on Hick and Moody. Enter Clarke, born on Merseyside, raised in Perth, released by Somerset last year after only two games and persuaded by Leicestershire's coach Jack Birkenshaw that his career depends on bowling leg-spin rather than seam.

At the moment, he's a batter who bowls, but he could be come a good all- rounder," Birkenshaw said yesterday. "He bowls the odd magic ball." Hick fell victim to the magic for the second time in the match, leg before attempting to sweep, after Moody had given a bat-pad catch to silly mid- off.