Cricket: Morris dances to safety

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The Independent Online
Hampshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .167 and 274-8 dec

Gloucestershire . . . . . . . . . . . . .339-8 dec and 95-7

Match drawn

HAMPSHIRE were leading by 72, with seven wickets down, at the start of the last 20 overs here yesterday before Mark Nicholas declared to set a bizarre target of 103 runs in nine overs - virtually two runs a ball.

Gloucestershire had a go but the loss of two batsmen to Shaun Udal in his first over of the match, followed by Bill Athey's departure at 21 and Courtney Walsh's at 49, brought shouts of 'Block it'. Raj Maru and Udal were called up to float a few carrots before Gloucestershire realised they had been invited to commit suicide and the only possible winner was the smooth-talking Nicholas.

The 30 minutes lost to rain at the start was the first of many frustrations for Gloucestershire. Tony Wright must have been hoping that a wearing pitch would help his bowlers sufficiently to make it worthwhile to declare with the overnight lead of 172. What did not follow was an early breakthrough.

Tony Middleton is known to be capable of batting out the day. The surprise came from his partner, Sean Morris, 23, a neat right- hander who, with Middleton, added 102 for the first wicket in 37 overs, which meant that Hampshire were half-way over the bridge to freedom.

Morris, from Stowe School, played cricket and hockey for Durham University (his father played the latter for Britain) and, as he scored 997 runs at an average of 90 for the second team last year, he might be thought to be overdue for promotion.

After Middleton had departed to a low return catch, Morris and Rupert Cox were run out by some dazzling fielding and throwing from Mark Davies who, if he were as effective a bowler as he is a fielder, would be famous. Nicholas was removed in Walsh's second spell before the decisive duel developed between the off-spinner, Martyn Ball, and Hampshire's middle men, Malcolm Marshall and Jon Ayling.

Ball took punishment but could argue that he had Ayling dropped when 12 and 26, and saw him offer two chances at 32. The sixth-wicket pair added 83 in 19 overs and although Walsh's third spell caused a flutter, Marshall falling to a catch at fine leg, Hampshire found two resolute last-ditch men in Maru and Jan-Paul Bakker before the last act on the village green.