Cricket: Lara is set for grand gesture

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FOR most acquaintances of an English summer, the longest day normally falls on 21 June. But for cricket fans and two lucky men in white coats, it falls on a Saturday in the first week of September. The curious appeal of the Natwest Trophy has nothing to do with the interminable amount of time it seems to take to get through the 120 overs, and it does not help matters when rain intervenes, as it did yesterday, ensuring that the verdict could not be decided on a day that got bleaker once light rain began to fall half an hour before lunch with Warwickshire at 88 for three and Brian Lara at the crease.

This gave Warwickshire time to savour the previous day's clinching of the County Championship and allowed them to gather their thoughts as they close in on an unprecedented grand slam of domestic prizes. It also gave Lara a chance to catch some more shut-eye, and Worcestershire will rue their luck if, after surviving an unusually circumspect start, he larrups them around Lord's today.

With early moisture expected, Worcestershire had the best of starts when their captain Tim Curtis won the toss. Much has been made of the advantage of fielding first in one-day finals at Lord's and Worcestershire, keen to avenge the hammering they took in the Benson and Hedges final here in July, invited their opponents to have first use of a pitch that was still moist from watering on Friday.

Batting first in a Lord's final can be disastrous, but this season Warwickshire have been able to focus on each new hurdle as it presents itself. It also helps that you have someone like Lara in the team, whose stature and runs have given Warwickshire a hitherto undiscovered dimension.

The full house did not have to wait long to welcome the Trinidadian. Worcestershire's new-ball partnership of Phil Newport and Tom Moody had already threatened to disturb the openers' game plan, but after one typically thumping four by Dominic Ostler through the covers, the breach came when he drove limply to backward point.

Two balls later, there was a huge appeal for a catch behind the wicket by Steve Rhodes as Lara flicked at one from Newport down the leg side. After an interminable delay, the umpire Nigel Plews called a wide, a decision that failed to pacify either bowler or wicketkeeper. Lara asked the umpire at square leg, David Shepherd, to stem Rhodes's flow of invective.

Andy Moles, the other opener, went soon afterwards and Warwickshire found themselves at 17 for two. This becalmed Lara even further for he had yet to get off the mark, eventually taking 28 balls to do so. Sensing this, Paul Smith decided the only way forward was to attack and, characteristically, his first scoring shot was a thumping lofted drive back over Newport's head. If Smith's two fours alleviated the run drought, his dismissal, caught at mid-on attempting a third big drive, left his side high and dry.

But Warwickshire, still buoyed by Lara's presence at the crease, dug in, and after both he and Roger Twose had felt the ball off the middle of the bat, they began to score more freely. Their task was helped by some rather user- friendly bowling by Neal Radford, who announced some time ago that he knew how to get Lara out. If he does, he was keeping it to himself. Both left- handers struck him for boundaries before rain brought things to a halt at 4.30. The match restarts at 10.30 this morning.

Scoreboard from Lord's

(Worcestershire won toss)


A J Moles c Rhodes b Newport . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8 (37 min, 31 balls, 1 four; thin edge to wicketkeeper) D P Ostler c Lampitt b Newport. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 (6 min, 5 balls, 1 four; loose drive to backward point) B C Lara not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36 (108 min, 69 balls, 3 fours) P A Smith c Haynes b Moody. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 (35 min, 30 balls, 2 fours; skied drive) R G Twose not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 (41 min, 39 balls, 3 fours) Extras (b1 lb1 w5). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Total (for 3, 29 overs). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88

Fall: 1-8 (Ostler), 2-17 (Moles), 3-50 (P Smith).

To bat: T L Penney, *D A Reeve, K J Piper, N M K Smith, G C Small, T M Munton.

Bowling (to date): Moody 12-4-17-1 (w2), Newport 7-2-23-2 (w2), Radford 7-0-34-0, Lampitt 3-0-12-0 (w1) (one spell each).

Progress: 50: 72 min, 111 balls. Rain stopped play 12.25pm. Play resumes today at 10.30.

WORCESTERSHIRE: *T S Curtis, D B D'Oliveira, G A Hick, T M Moody, G R Haynes, D A Leatherdale, S J Rhodes, S R Lampitt, P J Newport, R K Illingworth, N V Radford.

Umpires: N T Plews and D R Shepherd.

(Photograph omitted)