Cricket: Champions face a fight for survival

Leicestershire v Surrey
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The Independent Online
LEICESTERSHIRE ARE up against it here, an experience with which they are unfamiliar in recent times. Trailing the County Championship leaders by 229 on first innings and with all-rounder Vince Wells out of the match with an eye injury, they will be hard-pressed to avoid their first Championship home defeat for four years.

Poor old Wells is going through a wretched time. During the World Cup he was England's forgotten man, despite the obvious need for a bowler who could bat properly. Back in the county fold he finds himself laid up because of a freak accident in fielding practice on Thursday, when the ball flew off his baseball mitt and hit him in the right eye. Yesterday the swelling had closed the eye completely.

In his absence the task facing his team looked daunting after Surrey, 469 for 7 overnight, had carried on to reach 501. Mark Butcher, having batted through a whole day for the first time in his career, added a further 30 minutes to his marathon innings, by the end of which he had spent eight and three-quarter hours at the crease. He added six to his score before Alan Mullally swung one away enough to find an edge that Paul Nixon pouched.

Butcher's 259, with 30 fours and two sixes, dwarfed his previous career- best by 92 runs. It was the highest innings by a visiting batsman at Grace Road since Keith Miller struck an unbeaten 281 for the touring Australians in 1956. The runs also make the left-hander the most prolific Englishman this season with 632.

The toll he took on Leicestershire's bowling embarrassed the champions as Mullally and Michael Kasprowicz each went for a hundred. Mullally at least redeemed himself by taking the remaining wickets yesterday, cartwheeling Ian Salisbury's off stump and pinning Martin Bicknell lbw.

The salvage operation began well enough, Darren Maddy and Iain Sutcliffe compiling an opening partnership of 74, helped to an extent by a bland pitch. Surrey's new-ball pair laboured fruitlessly, which was not the way Alex Tudor, for one, had hoped things would evolve, with the England selector Graham Gooch looking on. Later, Tudor left the field with an injured knee.

Maddy survived a dropped catch by the red-faced Ally Brown on 48, completed his fifty but then was taken brilliantly at slip by Butcher to spark a mini-collapse. Salisbury, the leg-spinner, then collected his second wicket in three balls when Ben Smith succumbed to the googly.

Soon Leicestershire were in greater trouble. Sutcliffe tried to shoulder arms to Tudor only for the ball to catch his bat and fly to first slip. No wonder he banged the implement into the turf as he trudged off at 86 for 3.

However, the absence of Tudor helped Leicestershire's cause, requiring Salisbury to bowl a marathon stint. Nixon, on 14, escaped when another googly left wicketkeeper Jonathan Batty as foxed as he was. A century partnership between Nixon and Aftab Habib then boosted Leicestershire's survival chances, the latter passing 50 for the fifth time in his last six Championship innings.