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Cricket: Lancashire left in limbo

Derek pringle reports from Old Trafford Gloucestershire 158 Lancashire 12-3
The toss was probably decisive, but not as much as the bowling of Stephen Elworthy, Lanca- shire's South African replacement for Wasim Akram. In the space of his 10 allotted overs, he took four for 14, transforming the Gloucestershire innings from run-fest to rout as the visitors were dismissed for 158. However, with Lancashire losing three quick wickets before the close - including that of the England captain - this match is still very much in limbo and set for a thrilling finale today.

Before Gloucestershire's belated fightback, it had been Elworthy, twice dropped from early B&H games, who dominated another rain-blighted day. Brought on in the eighth over, after Peter Martin's atrocious opening spell had given Gloucestershire a roaring start - they were 50 without loss after 10 overs - Elworthy immediately gave his captain, Mike Watkinson, some much-needed control by hitting the pitch hard and bowling a tight line.

A simple enough formula, it only started paying dividends after Ian Austin's dismissal of Nick Trainor, who edged behind to Warren Hegg, the first of five catches by the Lancashire keeper. That dismissal opened the floodgates, and in the space of eight overs Gloucestershire had lost six wickets for 23 runs, four of them to Elworthy, who started his haul by yorking Tony Wright, the visitors' top-scorer.

There was little resistance from the middle-order apart from Jack Russell, who made it look as if he was playing in a snake-pit. Certainly there was movement, but nothing outrageous, and a 39-run last- wicket partnership between Courtney Walsh and Martin Ball showed what could be achieved with the necessary graft.

With the game unable to go beyond 8pm, Lancashire had 27 minutes to bat - a daunting prospect in faltering light against someone as potent as Walsh. But if the lanky Jamaican took an over or two to warm up, his new ball partner, Mike Smith, struck in his first over, removing Watkinson with a ball that would have been a leg-side wide. Four overs later, Walsh drew Atherton into playing a hook shot that brushed the batsman's gloves at or very close to shoulder height as the ball flew through to Russell. With Ian Austin out slashing at Smith, leaving Lancashire perched on 12 for 3, the B&H cup-holders have much to do.