By the time Sachin, Shane, Brian, Jonty and the rest have departed and attention is resumed, it is possible that the table will have taken on an irrevocable shape. Leicestershire won their second match from three yesterday (the third having been rendered aimless by rain) and have already established a handsome lead. Perhaps more importantly, they also have the appearance of a side who have retained their spirit and hunger, not to mention their proclivity for huddling at the slightest opportunity.
In beating Lancashire by 107 runs it was not quite the champions of 1998 reminding the runners-up of their place. Lancashire were bereft of too many important players for that - Michael Atherton, Neil Fairbrother, Ian Austin, Peter Martin and an overseas player - but it was a solidly professional and rounded exhibition. That, more than stars, is what tends to win titles.
Michael Kasprowicz, the seamer who is mysteriously surplus to all Australia's present requirements, took three for 84, finding both pace and movement and there will be many more where they came from. But it was a characteristically collective effort which ensured Leicestershire gained maximum points, also for the second time.
Lancashire began the day still needing 289 to win with eight wickets intact. The only reason for anyone thinking this might be possible resided in the broad, flashing blade of Andrew Flintoff. A few overs of him at his biffing best, as he has been often lately, and it could have been finished by lunch.
By lunch, as it happened, Flintoff was out and Lancashire were most of the way down at 137 for five. They had begun with what seemed like interminable circumspection. Only 23 runs came in the first hour off 15 overs. This, it was perfectly legitimate to ponder, would never bring back the crowds to county cricket (although there were some 1,500 in the ground on a glum day, which is an attendance of immense proportions in these days of hand- wringing pessimism).
At this point the nightwatchman Richard Green did everybody a favour, if not his team, by being too adventurous against Matthew Brimson and comfortably stumped by Paul Nixon. In came Flintoff accompanied by the weight of expectation. He is only 21 and has achieved little yet, but he will find this responsibility to be his regular partner in the next decade or so. Unfortunately, on this occasion he was still surveying the scene when he was left a trifle flat-footed by a ball from Kasprowicz which kept uncommonly low.
That already seemed to be that. Graham Lloyd was beaten by Vince Wells to be leg before and at lunch Lancashire were in a hopeless position of 137 for five. Nathan Wood, the left-handed opener, and Mike Watkinson enjoyed the highest partnership of the innings of 58 for the sixth wicket though both also enjoyed escapes until Kasprowicz did for both of them.
There were a few late sallies of the reverse sweeping kind from Chris Schofield and Glen Chapple, but the huddles to signify a wicket arrived at regular intervals. The last one came when confusion over a single led to a daft run-out. And now, unfortunately, lads, for the World Cup.Reuse content