Cricket: Austin fights pitch battle

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The Independent Online
Lancashire 163 and 484-9 dec

Middlesex 101 and 185

Lancashire won by 361 runs

THE bowling of Ian Austin, in only his third first-class match of the season, led Lancashire towards the substantial spoils of a commanding victory over the county champions. The question now is whether they will be allowed to retain those spoils, as yesterday evening's 361-run win was immediately followed by an investigation by four Test and County Cricket Board troubleshooters into the wicket's behaviour on the first day.

The four just men will announce their decision today, but docking the possible 25 points from Lancashire would be particularly hard on Austin, who followed up his career best of five for 23 in the first innings by dismissing five more Middlesex batsmen in the second for match figures of 10 for 60.

Austin is being given the chance to restate his four-day credentials by the absence of Wasim Akram. In the second innings yesterday, Austin's frequently innocuous looking roly- poly seamers were even used to open the bowling, a decision soon justified by the removal of Desmond Haynes.

John Carr and John Emburey fell the same way, both clean bowled. Austin even had time to throw in a forward roll before bowling Emburey and then had Kelvin Marc caught driving through the ball too early. The match ended almost exactly a day early in the only fitting manner, with Austin uprooting Kevin Shine's stumps.

Middlesex were always chasing an impossible target of 547 to win. Mike Roseberry briefly suggested some resistance with a brace of sixes into the pavilion, but when he and Mike Gatting fell, to Jason Gallian and Mike Watkinson respectively, the way was clear for Austin to mop up, if that is not an inappropriate phrase for a match which began with a wicket alleged to be too wet for first-class cricket.

Neil Fairbrother, two short overnight of a double century, nudged his way to another six runs yesterday before skying a catch off Phil Tufnell's bowling. Lancashire made a further 70 in the morning without any great sense of urgency before declaring with nine down to set Middlesex their impossible task. No sooner had they completed their emphatic victory at 6.20pm, than an ominous knot of serious-looking men was forming around the wicket. Their decision is expected early today, but it is to be hoped that Fairbrother's proof that it could be tamed will be taken strongly into account.