Cricket: Harden's heroics

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Somerset 236-5 v Derbyshire

TWO-DAY matches, which this one has become, can be rather fun, although Somerset initially were not exactly doubled up with laughter at the outset here yesterday. Indeed, it looked as if the joke was on them after deciding to bat on a green-looking wicket, and with the 6ft 5in Ian Bishop banging them in from a great height. First the rain, then the pain, so thank heavens for Richard Harden's gutsy, unbeaten 123.

Following Friday's wash-out, which had left puddles on the outfield, the surprise was that play started on time. Not so surprising was the moisture to be found lurking under the covers. Chris Tavare, however, sent his men out to face the music - much of it of the heavy, throbbing variety.

Tavare had a while to wait before his own services were required, as Mark Lathwell and Andy Hayhurst kept their heads, just, but not their wickets as Derbyshire unleashed a spiteful attack. The first to go was the promising 20-year-old Lathwell. Bishop had already demonstrated lift down the other end when, in the second over of the morning, Allan Warner had the youngster popping one up via bat and pad to short square leg. Harden knew he had arrived when Dominic Cork, who had replaced Bishop, scored a direct hit in the ribs.

Thanks, captain, but no thanks, Harden might have muttered through gritted teeth, but he survived - which is more than could be said of Hayhurst, who finally edged one behind off Bishop. Relief all round, and Tavare entering the arena with Somerset two down for 43 in the 20th over.

Derbyshire, meanwhile, were to continue going through the gritted-teeth routine themselves, what with all the playing and missing and the dropped catches. As for Tavare, he had to prove that he had made the right decision, and he promptly dropped anchor alongside Harden. It was to be a productive partnership, one that frustrated Derbyshire for 40 overs.

Harden was first to his 50 by a whisker, Tavare standing up to be counted before he was third out. The pair had added a face-saving 114 and, after the loss of 20 overs to a downpour, Harden arrived at his century - only the second by a Somerset batsman in the Championship this season.