Cricket: Lame Lancashire lack spirit

By Jon Culley at Old Trafford Lancashire v Sussex
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The Independent Online
IF ANYBODY were to take advantage of a short-cut to limited-overs opportunity, you would put money on it being Lancashire, whose collection of one-day silverware remains unrivalled. However, two steps to Lord's via the Benson and Hedges Super Cup has already proved too far.

This eight-team knock-out competition, designed as an incentive not to finish in mid-table anonymity in the Championship, has been much mocked, and now the four-day game is splitting into two divisions it is no longer necessary. But with a first prize of pounds 50,000 - only pounds 5,000 less than the NatWest Trophy - it is worth winning, which is all the more reason for Lancashire to rue their rather tame surrender here yesterday.

On a scorching morning, John Crawley's decision to bat attracted little argument, but the chance to plunder runs was not taken. Evidently, it was not a pitch for fluent stroke-making and Sussex bowled tightly almost to a man, but Lancashire's batsmen did not help their own cause, getting in only to get out and not always with too much credit to their opponents.

Only Lloyd, unbeaten on 45, survived beyond 25. James Kirtley and Mark Robinson used the new ball well but Lancashire's middle order failed to do their bit. Neil Fairbrother perished making a fairly ghastly heave across the line and Warren Hegg lobbed a routine catch to short square- leg, in between which Lloyd, critically, ran out Andrew Flintoff for five. Ian Austin had some cause for complaint, TV replays showing that he had not been cleanly caught by Tony Cottey at backward point, but it was hardly the deciding factor.

Lancashire's bowlers did not have much to defend and Sussex, for good measure, had worked out how they should bat. Peter Martin claimed an early breakthrough when Bas Zuiderent nicked a ball that left him, but a partnership between Mike di Venuto and Chris Adams made amends.

A lovely piece of bowling by Muttiah Muralitharan ended Di Venuto's stay when the Australian was lured fatally down the pitch, but the wiles of the Sri Lankan off-spinner were not baffling enough this time. Perseverance kept Lancashire's hopes alive with a half-century by Adams providing stability at one end, although Fairbrother did drop the Sussex captain when he was on 54.

Meanwhile, the Austin incident remained a talking point. Television cameras meant the officials had action replay at their disposal and the third umpire, John Holder, immediately alerted his colleagues in the middle when Cottey claimed the catch. However, Austin set off for the pavilion in little doubt that he was out and by the time several replays had confirmed that the ball hit the ground beneath Cottey's diving body, the batsman was off the field and could not be sent back out.

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