Cricket: O'Connor enjoys rich pickings

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The Independent Online
Leicestershire 125 and 333-9 New Zealand 260

IT WAS mostly a dire day at Grace Road yesterday: for Aftab Habib, who will be greatly surprised if he is not dropped from England's team today; and for Darren Maddy and Ben Smith, both England possibles, who fluffed a rare chance to impress the selectors; and for Leicestershire, the champion county, who played as though someone had replaced the silver spoon with a wooden one. Vince Wells, who made 101, and Paul Nixon, with 99, restored some of the gilt.

It was a perfect day for batting. The wicket was good, the sun was hot, the sky clear; there were even a few hundred spectators in this pleasant, tree-lined country ground which rarely draws a proper crowd.

But the spectators were not enthusiastic about what they saw until Wells and Nixon put on 163 for the sixth wicket and made sure New Zealand would bat again. A seventh-wicket stand of 59 means that the tourists will have to apply themselves to reach a target of around 200 to win today.

Until Wells and Nixon took off - Wells scored 18 fours and a six in his century - the only player who had enjoyed himself was Shayne O'Connor of Otago and New Zealand, left-arm medium-fast-medium, who used the breeze to aggravate his swing. When Smith departed, he had taken the first five Leicestershire wickets to fall in their second innings.

This had begun with New Zealand 135 in the lead after losing their last two wickets quickly in the morning. O'Connor soon had Darren Stevens and Iain Sutcliffe lbw, but Maddy was middling the ball and reaching the boundary easily, twice with straight drives, off the back foot to long on, through the covers, pulling square, and edging only one of his fours through the slips.

But then he reached forward to O'Connor, who was bowling over the wicket, missed the swing and was plumb lbw. There were eight fours in his deceitful - we were deceived by the promise - and disappointing innings of 38.

For Habib this game has been a disaster. His confidence is shot. And the loss of it seems to have affected the co-ordination between his brain and his feet. Following Test scores of 6, 1, and 19, he was bowled for five in the first innings.

Yesterday must have been Habib's last chance, but when he had scored four off 15 balls, he stood still, half-heartedly held out his bat and the keeper took the edge. He looked for a motive, maybe he was trying a steer to third man, but there probably wasn't one.

In five innings against the poorest this summer, Habib has scored 35 runs. Sadly he has been found wanting, but Leicestershire are a compassionate outfit. Their coach, Jack Birkenshaw, will pick him up carefully and try to put him together again.

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