Cricket: Munton gives Warwickshire new hope

Sussex 99 & 15-0 Warwickshire 207
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The Independent Online
EIGHT TROPHIES in nine seasons made Warwickshire the team of the 1990s but failure at the end of the decade could cost them dear.

Lodged in 11th place entering the final round of the Championship, they must beat Sussex or begin the new millennium in the Second Division.

Their poor season can be blamed in part on injuries and bad luck with a weather, with domestic discord thrown in, but the table reflects accurately the level of performance attained. Even a win here might not be enough to beat the cut as other results must go in their favour.

For a time yesterday it seemed they might kill off their own hopes unaided. Thanks to an heroic effort by Tim Munton, whose 7 for 36 took his wickets tally to 50 for the sixth time in his career, they mocked Chris Adams's decision to bat first by dismissing Sussex for 99 in 40 overs. It was an undistinguished effort from the visiting batsmen but then, at 50 for 6 in reply, Warwickshire seemed capable of no better.

They were redeemed, however, by their captain, Neil Smith, and the wicketkeeper, Tony Frost, who shared a partnership of 124 for the sixth wicket. A lead of 108 on first innings gave them a margin of superiority from which they should at least fulfil their part of what is required. But with 11 teams in contention for the seven top-nine places unresolved, the final reckoning will be a complicated business.

Sussex had the worst of the batting conditions on a damp, overcast morning in which the ball swung, especially for Munton. That said, too many batsmen fell to shots that were poorly executed.

Jason Lewry then bowled splendidly for Sussex and was largely responsible for seeing half the Warwickshire side back in the shed within 11 overs for 35, including the unfortunate 17-year-old Ian Bell, who took time off his A-level studies to make his debut but lasted only three balls.

Smith's season has reflected Warwickshire's. Learning the ins and outs of captaincy in four-day matches has resulted in a decline in his form with the bat to the extent that his average going into this match was barely half last summer's mark.

Happily for him, his arrival at the crease yesterday coincided with an improvement in the weather, after which the Sussex attack began to look much less effective. Taking advantage of a short boundary, both Smith and Frost punished anything loose on the leg side, of which there was certainly no shortage.

Ultimately, Robin Martin-Jenkins found some movement off the seam to account for both with catches in the slips, Frost for a Championship-best 66, Smith for a best-of-season 71 before Sussex survived an uncomfortable passage to close 93 in arrears.