COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP : Warwickshire battle effectively

MICHAEL AUSTIN reports from Old Trafford Warwickshire 262 Lancashire 16-2
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Bits-and-pieces Warwickshire relied on their familiar players' co-operative to glean two batting points, survive an on-going injury crisis and dismiss Michael Atherton, the England captain, and John Crawley cheaply.

Whether Atherton's mode of dismissal was leg-before to the worthy Dougie Brown or simply 'caught hypothermia' was debatable. The grey, chilling day, borrowed reluctantly from Novem- ber, offered curious contrasts for the champions, who lacked Allan Donald, Dermot Reeve, Tim Munton, Keith Piper and Nick Knight, all through injury. After making 96 without loss, six wickets tumbled for the addition of 69 runs. But they finished powerfully.

Andy Moles, the acting captain, still must have lamented an impetuous stroke, a down-the-pitch lunge that produced a slip catch off the left- arm spinner Gary Keedy, as his dismissal began the collapse which condemned the innings to premature extinction. Moles had just completed a half-century from 80 balls.

The 20-year-old Keedy, from Wakefield, became an influential figure because his best return of 3 for 65 in an embryonic career illustrated precisely what slow bowlers should achieve on this sympathetic pitch. His turn disconcerted the upper order, while Wasim Akram provided an ordeal by pace. David Lloyd, Lancashire's coach, reckons that if Warwickshire think they can win the title, then his side do, too, because man for man, he asserts: "we are better".

The fullness of time will produce the answer, though the questions about Warwickshire's reserve strength were dispatched as succinctly as Brown, a sterling Scot, appropriately from Stirling, approached a half-century, making 47 from 95 balls, with six fours, before sending Atherton on his lonely way. It was the third time in five first-class innings this season that he has been ousted without offering a stroke.

Others came almost as quietly, notably Roger Twose in Warwickshire's innings, first ball. He was caught, pushing forward, at silly mid-off, which sowed a few seeds of fear in batsmen's minds should this game reach the fourth day.

The chances are that, weather permitting, it may not, which suggests a bountiful harvest for the four spinners in this match. Among them, Mike Watkinson bowled Trevor Penney with a fiercely turning ball deflected via the batsman's gloves. Seam bowlers had their moments, as well, notably Peter Martin, who took 4 for 68.

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