Cricket: Gillespie edges into frame

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The Independent Online
Hampshire 156

The Australians 157-2

It was as well that Hampshire heeded the sound advice of the chairman of England's selectors and fielded their strongest available side against the Australians yesterday. The damage that might have been inflicted on a lesser bunch of players hardly bears thinking about. In the event, the cream of the County went out and immediately sounded the retreat. The weather stayed dry, Hampshire's batting could not have been wetter.

After their enforced rest the tourists sprang into action with the alacrity of greyhounds from their traps and only a briskly defiant last-wicket stand of 44 ensured Hampshire some semblance of respectability, but that was swiftly eroded by the Australians' reply.

Mark Taylor, still not truly in form, and Matthew Elliott, more or less at the peak of it, assembled an opening stand of 95. Maybe the pitch had eased by then but the bowling they faced was not of the most threatening variety. It was all so one-sided, it was difficult to dispel the thought that the tourists were being extended a practice session.

Counties, of course, are entitled to bad days - particularly against a side of world champions which contained 10 of the likely 11 for the Third Test - but, given the rain over the past week and the dense cloud cover, they might have chosen to field on winning the toss. The Australians were presumably grateful to be doing anything remotely related to cricket. Their preparations have been interrupted since their arrival and the vagaries of weather and itinerary have permitted no chance for their fringe players to stake a realistic claim for the Test.

Like Hampshire, they chose their strongest available team, though the difference in this regard for the two sets of selectors is large. The only senior player allowed a rest was Glenn McGrath, presumably 8 for 38 at Lord's having quashed doubts over his form. This left room for three seamers almost certainly vying for two places at Old Trafford on Thursday: a bowl-out by another name.

Jason Gillespie and Mike Kasprowicz shared the new ball, Paul Reiffel was first change. Kasprowicz struck in his third and fifth overs. First, he removed his fellow Queenslander Matthew Hayden, wonderfully held at short leg by Greg Blewett. Kasprowicz then pinned Jason Laney somewhere in no-man's land. Reiffel, taking over from the fast but wicketless Gillespie, took a wonderful return catch with his first ball to remove Matthew Keech and then had Will Kendall brilliantly caught by Mark Waugh at second slip.

Hampshire were 57 for 4 when Shane Warne entered the proceedings and neither Robin Smith nor John Stephenson knew whether to dance like Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly when facing him. Gillespie returned to put Stephenson out of his misery, Smith perished to Warne. And so it went on, until Adrian Aymes and Stuart Milburn proffered some belated resistance. As for the Test place, Gillespie probably has his nose in front.