Cricket: Benson and Hedges Cup: Stewart is quick off mark with a century: Surrey satisfaction - Middlesex relief - Lancashire enjoy stroll - Leicestershire untroubled

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The Independent Online
Surrey 288-3; Somerset 253

Surrey win by 35 runs

THE gasholders here will not have reminded Alec Stewart of the Caribbean; the cloudless skies may have done, for he played with the excellence one would have expected from a batsman who has just averaged more than 50 in a five-match Test series in the West Indies.

Stewart's 167 not out took Surrey to 288 for 3 in their 55 overs and then a splendid 120 by Mark Lathwell tested Surrey's nerve. They held firm in the end, however, bowling out Somerset in the 54th over.

While the first part of the day belonged to Stewart, the second was Lathwell's. He played an innings which showed every sign of being the product of hard thought. After a scratchy start to Test cricket last year, he then had a bad England A tour to South Africa during the winter.

Although it contained many entertaining strokes, his innings, at least until the latter stages, was notable for its control and discipline. He selected the right ball to hit and if he can go on making big scores in this manner he may find a more engaging future lies ahead.

When he reached the 70s and the required run-rate was approaching eight an over, he changed a gear. After being dropped at mid-off when 88, he forced Joey Benjamin off the back foot through extra cover for four with a marvellous stroke and then, with a thrilling hook for six in the same over, he reached his hundred.

In Benjamin's next over, Lathwell moved quickly across and picked the ball up square for six. But in the over after that, he went down the wicket to Mark Butcher and was bowled after facing 136 balls and hitting two sixes and 12 fours.

Graham Rose turned the next ball to square leg and five runs later Mushtaq Ahmed holed out at long-off. Nick Folland, whose stand with Lathwell had been worth 104 in 21 overs, was the sixth to go, thrown out by the wicketkeeper Stewart at 222 and that effectively ended things.

Any player with Stewart's recent achievements behind him would have been forgiven if he had decided to leave it to his colleagues on his first day back. As it was, after a winter of argument in the committee room at The Oval, this was the ideal way for the captain to stamp his mark on what Surrey hope will be a new beginning.

One could sense with Stewart that this innings was a great deal nearer to coming under the heading of a leisure activity than anything he has been doing in the West Indies. There was a nonchalance about his strokeplay, especially against Andy Caddick, whose 11 overs cost 62 runs.

His strokes were as elegant as the weather as he thrived on the sort of batting pitch that only Harry Brind, the groundsman at The Oval, seems to be able to produce.

Chris Lewis spared Nottinghamshire's cup blushes with an unbeaten 48 against Minor Counties at Trent Bridge. The visitors, who made 191 for 4, reduced Nottinghamshire to 159 for 7 before Lewis saw his side home with seven balls to spare.

Scoreboard, page 39

(Photograph omitted)