Cricket: Curran's cull has Gallian high and dry

NatWest Trophy: Nottinghamshire captain's decision contributes to downfall while holders edge into next round; Northamptonshire 281-6 Nottinghamshire 177 Northants win by 104 runs
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The Independent Online
UNDER-ACHIEVERS for so long, Northamptonshire defeated their Midlands rivals Nottinghamshire in the NatWest Trophy here yesterday. A career-best 4 for 29 by the all-rounder Kevin Curran, following an accomplished 74 from Alec Swann, helped them secure the victory, although Nottinghamshire contributed to their own downfall by their captain's insistence on batting second on a pitch being used for the third time in a fortnight.

The folly of that decision, apart from letting the home side rack up 281 for 6 while the surface was at its best, came once Curran replaced Devon Malcolm. Bowling straight, and keeping the ball back of a good length, the vagaries of bounce soon became apparent and runs that had come at a good rate while the ball was hard suddenly dried up.

This is to be Curran's swan song season and his name has been linked with Zimbabwe, the country of his birth. If no longer in his prime, he still had the zip and nous to outwit the best Nottinghamshire had to offer. With Tim Robinson falling to Tony Penberthy in the 16th over, Curran promptly removed the dangerman, Paul Johnson, for 51, his edged dab to third man a product of frustration as much as anything else. Until then, his side were up with the clock.

Chris Read, no doubt bouncing on air after his England debut last week, also got bogged down and after a let-off at mid-wicket, he too succumbed to the pressure of a climbing run-rate. His whip to leg across a straight one had to make contact and he barely hesitated as Curran's appeal for leg before was upheld to leave his side 111 for 3 with half their overs gone.

Trying to keep the scoreboard turning without taking unnecessary risks is never easy, and the Nottinghamshire skipper, Jason Gallian, fell two overs later trying to force Curran through the covers off the back foot. With him gone the listing ship never righted itself and Nottinghamshire were all out for 177 in the 41st over.

It was not so long ago that Wantage Road was the ugly duckling of the county circuit, a red-brick site waiting to be turned green by bulldozer and crashing ball. Now with Lottery money transforming the surrounds and a couple of young Swanns to brighten up proceedings on the field, the place is at last looking like a proper cricket ground.

Unlike Curran, Alec Swann who top-scored, and his younger brother, Graeme, who belted an entertaining 33 from 17 balls, are very much the future. This was Alec's NatWest debut and he took the chance well, adding 101 with his captain, Matthew Hayden, who made 46. When he went, the elder Swann lent his weight to an 81-run partnership with Russell Warren, third out for 53.

Hayden's form this season has been impressive and was clearly a factor in his name being added to the list of 25 players contracted to the Australian Cricket Board for selection over the coming months. With Steve Waugh's side set to tour Sri Lanka in August, Hayden, if selected, will have to miss the final seven weeks of the county season. If he does go, there can be no better leaving present to his team-mates than getting them to the final. Two more wins would do it.