Cricket: Larkins raises English hopes

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The Independent Online
Durham 385-8 dec

v The Australians

THE TURMOIL of England's Ashes campaign seemed mystifying within the peaceful boundaries of the university ground. Mere pie-throwers have feasted well in these parts this summer, but what passed for an Australian attack yesterday was made to look easy meat. How have England got themselves in such a pickle?

Since the ailing Craig McDermott went home, Australia's followers have had deep misgivings about the quality of their seam bowling. Take away Merv Hughes, which they have been forced to, and there is not much left. Durham are not used to generous opponents but still know what to do in such circumstances. Their total of 385 for 8 declared was their second highest of the season.

No one took advantage to more satisfying effect than Wayne Larkins, who launched a morning assault on Wayne Holdsworth and Brendon Julian in typically forthright fashion and simply went on and on. He reached 50 in 55 balls with 10 fours and a six. His century, made when his team were 169 for 2, included only 16 runs which were not gathered from boundaries. By the time Holdsworth, who bore most of the punishment, was rewarded with his wicket at 246 for 4, Larkins had posted his highest first-class score for Durham.

Poor Holdsworth: the hat-trick he took against Derbyshire last week must have seemed a distant memory. Few batsmen can shatter a bowler's confidence as quickly as Larkins when he is in the mood, and if Holdsworth had visions of a Test appearance at Headingley they must have gone now. Paul Reiffel, the other medium-paced contender should Australia leave out the off-spinner Tim May, looked much more the part.

None the less, England should be encouraged. Hughes has not played since the third Test at Nottingham and was absent here to give more rest to his groin injury. He moved well enough when he trained yesterday morning but should he be short of full fitness on Thursday, Headingley could yet become a pivotal point in the series.

The departure of Larkins ushered in Ian Botham, who is so far playing down reports that he may delay his retirement for a further season of one-day cricket back at Worcestershire. His hopes of a glorious farewell to the old enemy here ended after 37 balls and six fours, overshadowed by the efforts of West Indian Anderson Cummins, who employed various parts of his bat to record his fourth half- century of the season.