Cricket: Leaders limited by Lara problems

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The Independent Online
Nottinghamshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .597-8 dec

Warwickshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .321 and 134-3

INTO the final third of the season, the Championship leaders, Warwickshire, are beginning to find the going tough. A week ago, Worcestershire checked their chances of capturing all four titles by beating them in the Sunday League and limiting them to just one point from their four-day game. Yesterday, Nottinghamshire made them follow on, 276 runs behind, and at 134 for three by the close, they have a battle on their hands to defend their unbeaten record in the Championship. Their supporters will be keeping a weather eye on their nearest rivals and may be breathing some relieved sighs.

For gaining as many as five bonus points from this game, Warwickshire owe a lot to their late-order batting, and in particular to 22-year-old Graeme Welch and Neil Smith. These two added 68 for the eighth wicket, the highest partnership of the innings, to obtain Warwickshire's first batting point, whereupon Welch then put on 84 with Gladstone Small and Tim Munton to get another two in the bag. Come September, they could be worth their weight in sponsors' gold.

Welch, coming in at 153 for six to join a somewhat moribund Brian Lara, played with enterprise and fluency for almost three and a half hours. Quickly into position, he pulled anything just short of a length, or drove quite classically if the ball was full-pitched. His straight six off Nottinghamshire's debutant slow left- armer, Jimmy Hindson, carried Warwickshire past 250 and he also hit 11 fours in his unbeaten 84. The boundary- man par excellence was Smith, who hit 36 of his 38 runs in fours, mostly from off-side blows whacked square or driven straight. Chris Lewis was attacking him from round the wicket when he was caught down the leg side.

After Nottinghamshire's mammoth first-innings score - 597 for eight after being put in - it was always on the cards that Warwickshire would struggle yesterday to avoid the follow-on. They were 91 for three overnight, and Lara, having been off the field all day Friday, could not bat until two more wickets fell. Not that Trevor Penney and Paul Smith kept the fair-sized crowd waiting too long for the hero's entrance. Penney gave Friday's hero, Lewis, a regulation catch at second slip, while Smith edged one wider to Graeme Archer at third.

Both wickets showed there was something in the relaid pitch if bowlers were prepared to put their backs into their work. Kevin Evans and Lewis both extracted some lift, but it was a ball skimming through from Greg Mike that had Lara lbw. Lara's 50-minute stay for15 had been more notable for the broad face of his bat in defence than for a flashing blade.

Quite a contrast, in fact, to the dash displayed by the nightwatchman, Keith Piper. With six fours already in his overnight 26, Piper went to 50 off 55 balls with another four boundaries and was looking more positive than his illustrious partner when he dragged on a wide ball from Andy Pick. An A tour to India this winter should certainly be within Piper's ability.

Lara's second innings proved an even greater disappointment. Making room to cut Jimmy Adams, he was bowled 11th ball without scoring. His first duck in the Championship, this took his summer's average below three figures to 95.79. No wonder Warwickshire are feeling the strain.