Cricket: A tale of two tails

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The Independent Online
Somerset 327 and 21-2

Leicestershire 270

IN THIS curious game the top-order batsmen have left the run-scoring to men like Winston Benjamin, who has clearly spent few fireside evenings browsing through Len Hutton's batting manual, and Paul Nixon, who began the season in his accustomed role as second-string wicketkeeper.

On Friday Somerset hauled themselves up from 16 for 3 to a respectable 327, with scores throughout the middle order, and immediately after lunch yesterday Leicestershire were 89 for 6, only half-way to the follow-on figure, but they finished just 57 adrift. And before stumps, Somerset had lost both openers Mark Lathwell and Andy Hayhurst.

Somerset had an impressive morning, confirming that they are a stronger side this season. They are without Andrew Caddick, suffering from flu, so take away the South African Richard Snell and this is the same bowling line-up that left them floundering at the foot of the Championship table last year.

Snell has proved his all-round worth - he top-scored on Friday with 81 and was the most menacing bowler during a testing first session yesterday - but there has also been a transformation in two Somerset regulars. Harvey Trump has come of age as a lean, mean, off- break bowler. Earlier in the season he was briefly the leading spinner in the averages, and he lunched yesterday with 2 for 8 from 13 overs. Neil Mallender, on the other hand, has found new zest in his dotage, now that he is relieved of the impossible requirement of being both stock and strike bowler that a threadbare club imposed on him last season. After lunch, however, the initiative dramatically changed hands. Paul Nixon carefully repaired the Leicester innings in the company of this season's bargain signing Vince Wells, formerly of Kent. Between them they saved the follow-on.

Another partnership, with the left-handed Chris Hawkes supporting the muscular improvisations of Benjamin, took the home team to respectability, and the eager Somerset of the morning were now looking ragged.

When it comes to last-day declaration negotiations, Nigel Briers is a tough bargainer. And Chris Tavare's mathematics have deserted him on a couple of crucial occasions this year. An intriguing Monday could still result.

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