Cricket: Hemp drops anchor

Warwickshire 126-3 v Northamptonshire
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PERHAPS THE pavilion clock was to blame. Still running an hour behind, its refusal to acknowledge British Summer Time seemed appropriately symbolic as the few huddled knots of spectators, stoical as only cricket nuts can be in the face of advancing hypothermia, endured a four-hour wait for play to begin here yesterday.

The umpires pondered what to do about a wet strip bisecting the bowler's run-up at the Pavilion End. Unlike the pitch, it had been exposed to a deluge of rain, hail and sleet on Tuesday. The possibility of pegging down a strip of matting was considered but rejected. Ultimately, the captains took matters into their own hands and decided to get on with it.

The muddiest bit coincided with the bowler's take-off stride, although it seemed to be no impediment to Paul Taylor, the Northamptonshire left- armer who bowled 14 overs either side of tea and came through with all limbs intact. He claimed a wicket when Michael Powell, opening with Mark Wagh, prodded a catch to short leg and deserved to see off David Hemp as well. But the left-hander escaped a chance to second slip on 13, sliced another Taylor ball over the slips on 15 and almost chopped on to his stumps on 34.

Even so, it was better to be batting and a green pitch did not deter Neil Smith, the new Warwickshire captain, from making that choice. With Andy Moles and Brian Lara gone, and a quartet of recognised batsmen, headed by Nick Knight, unavailable, Smith had to play the wicketkeeper Keith Piper above his station at No 5. Fortunately, Hemp, riding his luck, came to his captain's aid.

The delay cost 57 overs. When play began, a swinging loosener by Devon Malcolm hit Wagh on the toe and sent him back to the dressing-room, leg before to the first delivery. Trevor Penney succumbed to a Malcolm outswinger and Piper to a bruised finger, courtesy of David Follett. But Hemp, who hit eight fours, was still there on 61 at the close.