Cricket: No spring in these early-season steps

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Warwickshire. .345 and 199-5

Northamptonshire. .240

IF FOUR-DAY championship cricket follows the pattern set by Warwickshire and Northamptonshire in this match, it will be only a matter of time before the Test and County Cricket Board begins auditions for a chorus line.

On the evidence of the last three days here, there is a need for one. True, entertainment is not necessarily the prime reason for first-class cricket. But a few lissom limbs would help keep some members interested.

Dancing girls could also be employed to help English batsmen with their footwork. Back and forth they go with all the efficiency of a siding engine at Willesden Junction. But when it comes to anything positive, you would see better footwork from a one-legged cowboy in a Laredo dancehall most Saturday nights.

Few batsmen have helped themselves by their approach. The pitch may have encouraged the bowlers so far, but line and length need not always be rewarded with a straightforward push. On such a lovely day for cricket, the well-distributed spectators deserved more than prodding defence. As Dermot Reeve and Trevor Penney showed while adding 132 in 39 overs, runs were available by hitting hard and picking off singles, but by then some tedious cricket was strong in the memory.

Having come to praise Nigel Felton's hundred, instead we were soon burying him. After batting all Friday afternoon to be 90 overnight, he survived no longer than the third over of the morning, Allan Donald's first. Still, a regulation catch to Penney at cover was no more than he deserved from a leaden-footed waft at a wide delivery. On the other hand, if Tim Munton had held a sharp chance at second slip when David Ripley slashed at Donald's previous ball, it could have been a different story for Felton.

That dismissal left Northamptonshire 195 for 6, and when Donald uprooted Kevin Curran's leg- stump two overs later, it seemed only a matter of minutes before Warwickshire would be batting again. Neil Smith removed the left-handed Tony Penberthy with some turn, but the last-wicket pair added 25 runs in 13 overs. The last rites of a morning's play which brought just 49 runs in an hour and 55 minutes, the stand did at least provide the first of only two boundaries before lunch. By then Warwickshire had begun their travail, losing Andy Moles leg before to a Paul Taylor delivery which came back into the right-hander. Between lunch and tea, however, it was Nick Cook's left-arm spin that inflicted most damage, having Roger Twose and Jason Ratcliffe caught close in by Felton. Dominic Ostler was making room to cut when he edged the ball to wicketkeeper Ripley.

Fittingly, it was their captain, Reeve, who began Warwickshire's revival from 46 for 4, using his feet and some judicious hitting to disturb the bowlers' rhythm. And as Penney found his timing, reinforcing a good impression made when top-scoring in their first innings, the home county set themselves up to press for victory today.