Cricket: Bailey bites back

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Lancashire 178-7; Northants 181-4

Northamptonshire win by six wickets

AN UNBEATEN 96 from a bruised Rob Bailey ensured the NatWest Trophy holders a second-round place, by six wickets with three overs to spare, and also eliminated one of their principal challengers yesterday. Lancashire, in an innings of some incompetence, made insufficient runs to stretch a Northamptonshire team who have become as adept in these competitions as Lancashire once were.

Bailey, twice hit on the toes by Phillip DeFreitas, responded with controlled aggression, forcing a six and 10 fours at one end, while Alan Fordham ticked along at the other in a decisive stand of 117 in 36 overs.

Not until Alex Barnett, the fast-advancing left-arm spinner, took his second spell did Northamptonshire suffer any tremors, Fordham and Allan Lamb departing in successive overs and Mal Loye being dropped, at silly mid-off, in the next, Barnett's last.

Lancashire would probably have preferred to bowl on a brown surface, shaded green, on a sunny morning gone dull. All four Northamptonshire quicks found variable bounce and Curtly Ambrose and Paul Taylor might have broken through before Steve Titchard was taken by Taylor, diving forward for a one- handed return catch.

Nick Speak was confounded by a ball that seamed; a characteristic knock from Neil Fairbrother,five boundaries in 22, was ended by Kevin Curran having him caught behind. At 45 for 3 in 20 overs, reconstruction was the priority but it was the turbocharged Wasim Akram who appeared, to be run out immediately.

Eventually, two wickets too late, Lancashire found the right partnership, Mike Watkinson and Ian Austin, the eighth- wicket pair, adding 71 in the last 14 overs. Watkinson had to protect a broken finger on his left hand, it is true, coddling it to the extent of hitting five fours in 60 runs off 90 balls, including three overs from Ambrose.

Mike Atherton, in a familiar role, 37 in 34 overs, is a kindly man or he might have stormed into the dressing-room shouting something like: 'You're worse than the other lot.'