Cricket: Lara puts leaders on verge of title: Warwickshire close in on County Championship as Nottinghamshire look to secure second place

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Hampshire. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .278

Warwickshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .483-6

WARWICKSHIRE took another lengthy stride towards their first County Championship title for 22 years thanks to a record-breaking stand of 295 between Brian Lara (191) and Roger Twose (137) here yesterday.

Barring a mathematical fluke, Warwickshire will have the title wrapped up tonight if they complete their 11th win of the summer and Leicestershire and Somerset fail to win their matches. A draw might suffice if their two closest rivals drop any points today.

The competition sponsors, Britannic Assurance, already have plans for a presentation ceremony at Edgbaston this evening and, on the evidence of yesterday's play, their confidence is not misplaced.

Warwickshire have played positive, purposeful cricket all summer and yesterday they got on with the business of collecting maximum bonus points and setting up a possible victory with the minimum of fuss.

For most players, 450 runs in 13 innings would represent a pretty useful two months. For Lara, it has been the leanest spell in his remarkable first season of county cricket.

It says much for his prolific early-season form that he completed 2,000 runs for the summer yesterday - the first man in the country to that landmark and only the ninth in Warwickshire's history. His ninth first-class century of the season (and his 13th of the year) also equalled a Warwickshire record set by another West Indian, Alvin Kallicharran, in 1984.

Lara's contribution to Warwickshire's one-day success has been negligible, but he is determined to produce an innings to remember in tomorrow's NatWest Trophy final at Lord's, and their opponents there, Worcestershire, will view yesterday's performance with some trepidation.

Lara's nimble footwork and precise placement allow bowlers little margin for error and Shaun Udal, the off-spinner tipped for a place on England's Ashes tour this winter, found it a sobering experience as his 20 overs yesterday went for 91 runs.

Most of them came from Lara, but Twose lent him admirable support in a stand, at almost five runs an over, which is now the highest for any Warwickshire wicket against Hampshire since fixtures began 99 years ago.

Twose completed his third century of the summer - and 1,000 Championship runs at Edgbaston this season - before he was stumped giving Udal the charge. This could be Twose's last Championship match at Edgbaston. A residential qualification to play Test cricket for New Zealand awaits him; Warwickshire have offered him improved terms for next summer but if England do not name him in their squad for the A tour of India he could be lost to the English game for good.

Lara, who will be back in England next summer tormenting county attacks with the West Indies, remained to punish Hampshire. A double century was there for the taking until he pulled Udal to midwicket where Robin Smith held a splendid low catch.

Warwickshire then pressed on towards a probable declaration with Dominic Ostler (25) and Trevor Penney (20) scoring freely. James Bovill briefly slowed their progress with three quick wickets but Graeme Welch, an improving all-rounder who has played a major part in Warwickshire's success in the absence of the injured Dermot Reeve, upped the tempo again with a breezy 43 not out.

Warwickshire's acting captain, Tim Munton, is likely to leave his attack with most of today to bowl Hampshire out a second time and the visitors will have to show greater resilience than their first innings effort to prolong the Championship race.

(Photograph omitted)