Cricket: Cox's pippin of an innings

Somerset 315-8 Surrey 195 Somerset win by 120 runs
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The Independent Online
AN IMPECCABLE century, as handsomely crafted as it was beautifully judged, graced the NatWest Trophy semi-final yesterday. It was in almost every way a pleasure to watch it being constructed with a professional combination of care, risk and utter certainty, and it formed a splendid centrepiece to Somerset's advance to their first final in 16 years.

What was not quite so pleasurable at the end of another week of hand- wringing, soul-searching and head-shaking about the state of the English game was that it was played by an Australian. An Australian, to boot, who is not within sledging distance of their international teams. As Jamie Cox drove, pulled and barely missed the opportunity of a run in his innings of 114 it merely emphasised the flaws that have been aired so frequently recently.

Had Graham Thorpe not supplied an assured response for Surrey, every stroke of which seemed to say that he had suffered quite enough of this nonsense of antipodean superiority, it would have been still more disturbing. But neither Thorpe, who was halted in dangerous flow at 62, nor anybody else could diminish Cox's contribution. Had he been English instead of Tasmanian he would have reduced by several hours the discussion over at least one batting place in the Test side this summer or, probably, in any summer.

Cox, who was brought over as captain to lend steel to the Somerset cause, has been mightily effective. He is the third highest scorer in the Championship (behind two other Aussies, Stuart Law and Justin Langer) and he was the spearhead behind their qualification for the semi-final with another innings of pedigree, 73, in the quarter-final. His attitude, hard-nosed, never-say-die, bloody-minded, has presumably rubbed off on the other Somerset players. It should be a lesson they will never forget.

Apart from delighting a packed, typically boisterous Taunton house of the sort they used to have regularly in the days of Botham, Richards and Garner, Cox's innings ensured that Surrey, the favourites, would have to demonstrate most of their apparently superior all-round batting class.

If nothing else it gave a huge opportunity to an Englishman, any Englishman in their side, to provide a rebuff. But a target of 316 to win in 50 overs, perhaps more than they had in mind when Adam Hollioake, encouraged by the early, fitful cloud, but ignoring a delightfully flat pitch, rapid outfield and short boundaries, asked Somerset to bat, was beyond them.

Cox and Peter Bowler put on 135 in 27 overs for the first wicket. They saw off the new- ball pair of Martin Bicknell, who was efficient, and Ben Hollioake, who was less so. It was the assurance of the running which caught the eye and it undermined Surrey's fielding. Too many ones became twos.

Saqlain Mushtaq was perhaps their most culpable fielder, but he easily compensated for this with his guileful bowling, alone arresting the West Country gallop and taking four wickets in the process. He had Bowler stumped, off-balance on the half-drive, but it was 92 runs later before he had Cox caught on the midwicket boundary - the ball after the Tasmanian had been surprised by a no-ball beamer. The man of the match faced 113 balls, hit two sixes and 13 fours and made a cucumber look hot under the collar.

Somerset faltered briefly but they perked up, took 29 off the final two overs to take them past the crucial mark of 300 and let Surrey calculate their best method of progress.

It was, intially, with a businesslike briskness. Mark Butcher went on the attack but his timing did not quite settle down and it was no surprise when he pulled Andrew Caddick to midwicket. The England bowler, hugely impressive and whose popularity in these parts was demonstrated by a benefit collection of pounds 3,000, had Alec Stewart lbw soon after.

Thorpe was full of aplomb and pulled strokes. He took a six off Caddick, he looked like going all the way. But a catch at the second attempt by wicketkeeper Rob Turner did for him. The target went into the far distance as Alistair Brown flayed a few. Another four or five overs of his sort of audacity and Somerset could have been denied. But Paul Jarvis took a breathtaking catch off his own bowling, sticking out a hand to his right. Keith Parsons hustled in to take four wickets at the other end as all hope vanished.

Cox has made Somerset a harder team: their collective effort should not be underestimated but nor should his immense individual flair.