Cricket: Lancashire coast to second title

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Lancashire 202

Hampshire 186-7

Lancashire won by 16 runs

LANCASHIRE COLLECTED their second trophy in little more than 24 hours when a 16-run victory over Hampshire clinched the AXA League title before an enthusiastic home crowd at Old Trafford.

Basking in the glow of Sunday's crushing defeat of Derbyshire in the NatWest Trophy final, Lancashire recovered from a slow start to total 202 in 40 overs, thanks mainly to 69 off 58 balls by the 20-year-old Andrew Flintoff.

Robin Smith (44) threatened to spoil the party as Hampshire reached the last 10 overs with 74 needed and eight wickets still in hand. But, once Smith had been dismissed in the 34th over, Hampshire's challenge fizzled out as five wickets fell for 30 runs.

Lancashire's triumph brought a tear to the eye of their chairman, Jack Simmons, whose first full year in office has brought a repeat of the double won in 1970, when he was a player. "It is not quite as big a thrill as when I was a player but I never cried then and I have cried twice in two days this week," he said.

"It is hard to make comparisons. I thought I played in an excellent side but I said at the start of this season that there was no other county whose squad I would swap for ours. This side can win anything and it is fabulous to think we could make history by winning the Championship as well."

Lancashire, without Michael Atherton because of back trouble, made a sluggish start after Wasim Akram had won the toss, slipping to 50 for 3 in 15 overs. John Crawley, whose unbeaten 53 helped ease the way to victory at Lord's, fell for only seven.

However, Flintoff happened upon just the right moment to recover his form after enduring a drought in which he had scored only 110 runs in 16 innings in all cricket since making 70 against Warwickshire in the Championship on 29 June.

Yesterday's innings was a characteristic exhibition of powerful hitting that included three sixes and four other boundaries before he became a second victim for Dmitri Mascarenhas, when he was caught at long on.

Flintoff's partnership with Graham Lloyd added 110 in 16 overs but when Lloyd was stumped on the legside by Aymes a collapse followed, the last six wickets falling for 36 runs in seven overs with the West Indian Nixon McLean dismissing Warren Hegg, Glen Chapple and Peter Martin in successive overs.

At 75 for 2 after 20 overs, Hampshire were falling behind the clock after Stephenson had driven Ian Austin in the air to mid-off and Giles White departed in similar fashion off Wasim Akram. A partnership of 96 between Smith and Will Kendall took them to 149 before the former England batsman gave a thin edge to wicketkeeper Hegg in the 34th over.

But Smith's departure sparked a middle-order collapse that proved decisive in tipping the scales in Lancashire's favour, as Kendall sliced Peter Martin to Ian Austin at third man before Mascarenhas saw his stumps flattened by the same bowler.

With 31 still needed, Martin claimed his third success when Glen Chapple took a superb catch on the long-on boundary to remove Nixon McLean, and Hampshire's chance finally expired when Wasim bowled Matthew Keech.

l Lancashire's committee is set to decide today on an overseas player and a captain for next season. They are considering whether to take on the Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan as replacement for Wasim Akram, ending the Pakistani all-rounder's 10-year association with the county, and to name John Crawley as the new captain. Muralitharan would be renewing his link with his former international coach, the Australian Dav Whatmore, who is close to agreeing an extension to his contract as Lancashire coach. The departure of Wasim will be greeted with mixed feelings by county members, who have seen him play a significant role in Lancashire's treble bid.

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