Cricket: Lewis leads revival after cutting loose

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The Independent Online
Leicestershire 318 and 109-6; Nottinghamshire 337

IT IS at this stage in the Championship season, as the lap counter begins to run down, that matches such as this take on a critical significance, deciding which teams can stay the pace and which will drop away.

Two months ago, few would have expected Leicestershire to still be sitting on the leaders' heels, but there they are, poised to launch a final push and well placed to do so. This match may indeed become pivotal.

With Surrey sitting out the current round, Leicestershire can move into second place if Warwickshire fail at New Road, as seems likely. Both Surrey and Warwickshire have played a game more than Leicestershire, who could cut the latter's advantage to as few as a dozen points.

This first assumes, of course, that they defeat Nottinghamshire, which was beginning to look less and less likely here last night as a contest seemingly locked in stalemate swung toward the home side.

At tea, taken a few minutes early, Nottinghamshire were all out for 337, having gained a negligible first innings lead of 19 from three days of attrition. On a sluggish, grafter's pitch, scoring at more than two-and-a-half runs per over had been beyond most of the batsmen most of the time. Everything pointed to a last-day declaration by Leicestershire, and one which the captain, Nigel Briers, would need to judge skilfully. But then the game shifted into another gear. Even before they had wiped out Nottinghamshire's modest advantage, Leicestershire had lost Phil Simmons leg before when he shuffled across his stumps to Kevin Evans, and Tim Boon, nudging Andy Pick into the wicketkeeper's gloves. Briers was joined by James Whitaker to effect a sound repair job, the pair putting on 53 briskly for the third wicket. But after Briers was caught at slip off Andy Afford, who is bowling erratically but still taking wickets, doubts began to surface.

Nottinghamshire called up Jimmy Adams to bowl in combination with Afford and, with two left-armers pitching into the rough, Leicestershire lost three wickets between 91 and 108 and with them, effectively, any real chance of winning the match. On 109 for six at the close, they are a fragile 90 in front. Only Whitaker (49 not out) remains of the recognised batsmen.

Instead of strengthening Leicestershire's position then, this match may revive Nottinghamshire, who have not won in any competition since the end of June. From their point of view, the player of the day, ironically, was Chris Lewis, who punished his former county with his best innings of the season. Much criticism has been aimed at the discarded England all-rounder, not least from the Trent Bridge members, but he deserved nothing but congratulations after a performance which displayed patience and concentration at first and a flurry of fine attacking strokes in its later stages.

In a little under four hours, Lewis hit two sixes and 14 fours in his 95, the bigger proportion of the boundaries gained in a withering attack on David Millns and Alan Mullally after Leicestershire had taken the second new ball.

Nottinghamshire, 145 for two overnight, had slipped to 154 for four when Lewis came in. Soon they were in crisis at 175 for five but Lewis, selecting his shots carefully, guided Wayne Noon and Evans through partnerships that put on 103 for the next two wickets, carrying his side to unexpected parity.