Cricket: Murali's conundrum

Lancashire 556-6 dec and 19-0 Glamorgan 282 and 286 Lancashire win by 10 wkts

GLAMORGAN ENJOYED the small consolation of forcing Lancashire to bat for a second time, a prospect that seemed remote when they followed on 274 runs behind on Friday morning with the ball turning and Muttiah Muralitharan sensing the chance to set an extraordinary mark by taking 50 first-class wickets in the space of four matches.

In the event the Sri Lankan spinner had to be satisfied with 47. It seems ridiculous to suggest any bowler might be disappointed after taking 10 in a match but Muralitharan's 10 for 176 was his poorest return so far for Lancashire, following 14 for 117 against Warwickshire, 10 for 154 versus Surrey and 13 for 134 against Essex.

His brief association with county cricket will end, for the moment, next month, when Sri Lanka require him for a triangular one-day tournament against Australia and India. He will play against Hampshire (at Portsmouth) and Derbyshire (at Derby) but his availability to face Yorkshire at Old Trafford, beginning on 19 August, is the subject of negotiations with the Sri Lankan board.

Given that they have their work cut out to secure a top nine position before the Championship splits into two divisions next season, Lancashire are understandably keen to keep their prime asset as long as possible. This was only their third victory and they probably need to win four more to beat the cut.

They have had to manage in this match without Peter Martin, because of a family bereavement, and Glen Chapple, who has an ankle injury, and were indebted yesterday to the effectiveness of Chris Schofield, their 20-year-old leg-spinner.

As Michael Atherton had demonstrated during the career- best unbeaten 268 that created such a dominant Lancashire position, this was not a pitch liable to be kind to indisciplined bowling, but the former England Under- 19 player not only maintained his but was prepared to bowl with variety as well. He returned 4 for 71 yesterday to go with a career-best 4 for 55 in the first innings.

He and Muralitharan shared the four remaining Glamorgan wickets after the Welshmen had resumed 39 behind. Robert Croft and Darren Thomas stuck around for 43 minutes but, once Thomas had steered a rare Muralitharan long-hop straight to Andy Flintoff at mid-wicket, there was little more resistance. Croft soon followed, top edging Schofield to slip for 43.

Lancashire were left to score 16 and it was appropriate that Atherton should strike the winning runs. On the field throughout the match, he could not have endured a stiffer test of the apparently improved health of his back and Lancashire and England will wait for fitness reports with bated breath.