Cricket: Marshall is supreme

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Northamptonshire. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .125-9 and 303-9

Hampshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .247 and 91-1

WHEN the players came in for lunch, Alan Fordham had just completed a century that gave Northamptonshire a faint chance of saving a game that had been going badly since they lost the toss. But the small boys collecting autographs at the County Ground in Northampton made a bee-line instead for the Hampshire fast bowler who had been on unchanged for two hours during the morning. That was Malcolm Marshall and the kids had made the right choice.

By the end of Northamptonshire's second innings of 303, Hampshire were left to get 182 to win, and by the close looked like getting them comfortably tomorrow. Marshall's figures were undramatic: he had taken 2 for 53 in 30 overs. But statistics do not reflect the real impact of Marshall's bowling.

His accuracy, the well-directed bouncers, and the occasional fast- medium off-break were so intimidating that when Northamptonshire's batsmen got to the other end they relaxed and played shots that ought to haunt them. Kevan James got the wickets - three for no runs in 14 balls; Marshall deserved them.

The West Indian legend is 35 now and has a bald patch but he is still lean and always hungry for more wickets. When there was moisture in the greenish pitch on Thursday a sharply rising ball from him broke David Capel's arm. He was not quite so fierce today, just formidable.

He walks slowly from the outfield, carefully folding his tinted spectacles in a handkerchief before handing them over to his captain, Mark Nicholas, who takes them to the umpire. Marshall spits, adjusts his gold chain, checks his field and grunts after each delivery. He appeals stridently and often; when he is turned down, he glares witheringly at the batsmen and looks ambiguously at Ken Palmer, the umpire. His comment to Palmer makes him laugh out loud. This is more than bowling; it is a performance.

With David Gower and Robin Smith missing from Hampshire's team, the only batsman playing here capable of a class act of this kind was Allan Lamb, but, having scored a quick six in the first innings he was out for an even quicker duck today, lofting a ball lamely to Nicholas at mid-off. Fordham's stout 109 took him six hours. Kevin Curran's 71, with seven fours, was much sharper, and the tail produced sufficient runs to make sure that Hampshire could not take victory for granted.

Curtly Ambrose yorked Tony Middleton when only 16 of the required 182 runs had been scored, but Sean Morris and Kevan James resisted Ambrose and scored steadily off the rest of the home team's bowlers. They have fewer than 100 to score on Monday and the forecast is fine.