Cricket: Northants ponder Warne move

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Steve Coverdale, Northamptonshire's chief executive, yesterday confirmed his county have spoken to Shane Warne, but denied any firm offer has been made.

The Australian leg-spinner is one of four overseas players Northamptonshire are in negotiation with for 1998, although Coverdale thinks nothing will happen until the end of the season.

They desperately need a spearhead to their bowling attack as this season's import, Pakistani Mohammad Akram, has struggled to fit into his new environment and role.

Anil Kumble, the Indian spinner, enjoyed a successful summer with Northamptonshire two years ago and he is believed to be on the current shortlist.

"We spoke to Shane to ask him about his availability when the Australians were here in May and John Emburey [the club coach] spoke to him at Lord's last Saturday," Coverdale said. "But no offer has been made."

Northamptonshire yesterday found themselves on the end of a punishing innings by Darren Bicknell. He rattled up 162 as Surrey reaped the rewards of batting first on an easy-paced County Ground wicket. The 30-year-old left-hander, playing his first Championship match for five weeks, did not even have a first-class 50 this season before yesterday, when he helped Surrey to amass 386 for 4.

Apart from one early scare when Bicknell squeezed a ball from Mohammad Akram inches past his leg stump, the innings was a faultless one until the damage had been done. By the end, he had hit 24 boundaries and a five, courtesy of overthrows, but by lunch he had reached only 43. At one stage he wet 15 overs without finding the boundary.

Following an opening stand of 53 with Jason Ratcliffe, Bicknell built Surrey a formidable foundation with a third-wicket stand of 175 with Adam Hollioake, who hit nine fours and a six in his 81, before being run out by Tony Penberthy's direct throw from third man.

Bicknell was finally out with the score at 332 when he lofted a simple catch to Paul Taylor at midwicket from the off-spin of Jeremy Snape.

Surrey's vice-like grip on the game was further enhanced in the final half-hour as Alistair Brown reached his half-century, while adding an unbroken stand of 54 with Ben Hollioake.

Northamptonshire's early attack was lacking in accuracy and penetration, but later they simply failed to get the breaks.