Cricket: Lively Lewis saves day for champions

Leicestershire 337-9 v Lancashire
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THE BALL moved around all day here, which is hardly a surprise at this stage of the season. Even so, to opt to bowl first under cloudless skies when without two front-line seamers still constitutes something of a risk, so Lancashire had cause for quiet satisfaction at their efforts yesterday.

Additionally, Lancashire had had only six out of eight scheduled days' county cricket, which sometimes showed when length and line eluded them, but they were helped by some Leicestershire batting that also owed much to what might be kindly called early-season rustiness.

It did not help the champions' cause that two batsmen who were in form, Vince Wells and Darren Maddy, got themselves out when well set. But Chris Lewis, with an unbeaten 77 from 133 balls, helped Matthew Brimson in an unbroken last-wicket partnership of 72, which led Leicestershire to a total that their own bowlers will probably make look very formidable.

Ian Austin returned to Old Trafford for treatment for a thigh injury but insisted he would be fit for the World Cup and as John Crawley was alsowithout the services of the injured Peter Martin, his decision to field first may have looked a shade defensive. But you could hardly blame him if it was.

His side had hardly had a bat in their hands in the four-day game and this ground was under water earlier this month. There had to be some under- surface moisture, yet Steve Wright, the groundsman, somehow produced a pitch on which the ball not only came firmly on to the bat, but also went through at a healthy pace, especially at the Bennett End.

Viewed from Grace Road's handsome new media centre at that end, which was built during the close season at a cost of some pounds 300,000, it was always a combative contest in which Lancashire's weakened attack stuck to their task well, despite occasional erratic spells.

No one ran in with more heart than Richard Green who, coming on first change, swung the ball later than most and sometimes disconcerted even Wells and Maddy with his ability to generate extra bounce around off stump. Wells, who had dealt savagely with anything short of a length, became his first victim when his footwork, for once, betrayed him. But for the left-handed Iain Sutcliffe, Green produced a perfect inswinging yorker that the batsmen could only edge into his stumps.

From 111 for 2, though, Leicestershire must have felt they were going on to greater things. But Michael Smethurst, making his second Championship appearance, quickly learned one of the game's oldest adages (that there is no such thing as a bad ball if it takes a wicket) when Ben Smith carved his post-lunch loosener to slip.

James Whitaker, who has always looked an uncertain starter, edged a Glen Chapple outswinger to the wicketkeeper and departed without waiting for the umpire's verdict. Two cover drives from Aftab Habib were as good as any strokes seen all day, but Green got him caught at slip as he tried to withdraw his bat from one that bounced.

Throughout all this, Maddy had batted with the circumspect approach of one who intends to make a stack of runs this summer. He is one of those rare batsmen who is a pleasure to watch even when operating defensively. Quietly, he simply waited for errors in length and line and picked them off.

Green removed him, in the end, with a superb ankle-high return catch when Maddy, thinking he was not quite there for the drive, half-checked his stroke. It was his first serious error in three and a half hours.