Cricket: Patient Ostler benefits at last

Leicestershire v Warwickshire
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The Independent Online
LEICESTERSHIRE ARE all too acutely aware that they must win every remaining Championship match to keep alive their slender hopes of retaining the title. All credit to them, therefore, for going against current trends here yesterday and providing the best possible pitch.

Those employed at Old Trafford would have regarded it enviously. Warwickshire, their confidence eroded by three successive defeats, were grateful for the opportunity to rediscover some semblance of form and footwork.

Whether they should have been allowed to do so was a moot point. Although it was clearly a day meant for batting, with the sun blazing down, the pitch had more than a tinge of green and the ball often zoomed through at a healthy pace.

But perhaps the moon was in the wrong quarter for Leicestershire's seamers. The ruthless accuracy which, for instance, had disposed of Yorkshire for 52 here last month somehow eluded them. Too many balls did not demand a stroke; others disappeared harmlessly down the leg side.

Maybe they were disconcerted by the presence of two left-handers in Warwickshire's top three. Alan Mullally found it hard to drag his line away from the leg stump initially but when he managed it, the bat was passed with some frequency.

It was, therefore, a shade ironic if perhaps quite understandable that Leicestershire's first three victims were all somewhat self-sacrificed. Mark Wagh misread Mullally's length, David Hemp decided at the last moment not to play and Nick Knight was eventually lured into an indiscretion outside the off-stump.

Something substantial was needed and after a sticky start Michael Powell and Dominic Ostler provided it with a partnership built on patience, selectivity and impressively sound techniques that went carefully beyond three figures in 42 overs.

The occasional hint of variations in bounce placed a great premium on playing straight. Both did so admirably. Ostler waiting for anything that could be dispatched through the covers off front or back foot while Powell was content to accumulate wisely in the arc between mid-on and mid-off.

As the ball lost its hardness, Leicestershire looked short of inspiration. The importance of this innings to Ostler, who had not made a half-century since 1997, could not be over-emphasised. He made only a handful of appearances last summer and has also had to live with the news that despite 10 years' service he will not be given a benefit next season.

Warwickshire were his beneficiaries here as he talked his younger partner from one target to the next. When bad light brought a halt, he had passed 50 from 136 balls, Powell had reached his half-century from 160 balls and both, from Leicestershire's view point, looked ominously well set.