Cricket: Aftab's fabulous form

Leicestershire 388 & 215 Lancashire 241 & 14-0
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The Independent Online
LEICESTERSHIRE LAID plans for their second Championship victory of the season here yesterday, though not everything went according to schedule in the face of a combative performance in the field from Lancashire. In the end, Lancashire were left to score 363, a formidable task for any side on a fourth-day pitch let alone one weakened by injury.

The day began fittingly with Leicestershire's Championship pennant lowered to half-mast as a mark of respect to the memory of Cyril Washbrook. Maybe the visitors' minds had been concentrated by thoughts of a great Lancastrian. Maybe, though, words had been spoken in the dressing-room after some of their erratic cricket earlier in the match. Whatever it was, tight bowling was supported by bristling work in the field which exploited any complacency Leicestershire may have been feeling at starting the day 147 ahead.

It helped that Richard Green's first ball of the morning was not only of a requisite full length but also swung late. It caught Iain Sutcliffe only half-forward and he departed leg-before. Things could have been much worse for Leicestershire. Aftab Habib had made only two when, looking for a second for a straight drive off Green, he was sent back and only scrambled home. He too would have been on his way if Glen Chapple had managed a direct hit.

All this cast a curious uncertainty over the innings and, with the ball still new enough to bounce awkwardly at times, Leicestershire were denied the acceleration they clearly wanted. Both Ben Smith and Vince Wells were undone in this manner by Andy Flintoff, operating accurately to a full-length, after the nightwatchman, Matthew Brimson, had played on to Michael Smethurst.

Chris Lewis put bat to ball like the man in form he clearly is at the moment until he edged a projected drive against Chapple. It was left to Aftab, whipping the ball through midwicket with a roll of the wrists, to hold things together in his first half-century of the season before he was given out caught behind.

Paul Nixon took over with another typically busy left-hander's innings, notwithstanding a profitable spell by Smethurst, who not only has the ability to surprise with genuine pace but an agreeable habit of taking wickets with long hops.