Cricket: Pickings too easy for Cox

Som 493-6 dec and 255-2 dec Hampshire 413 Match drawn
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ALL SUMMER long the cry has gone up: "Give the lads the pitches so they can do their jobs." This changed slightly at Southampton yesterday to something more like: "Give us a pitch so we can have a result." It was not that the match was unexciting and predictable, though often it was both, or that the cricket was soft, though it was not, as it were, hard. But it was bizarre going on madness that such meaningless cricket should be played at such a crucial stage of the season.

The Great Divide is looming. By this time next week the County Championship will be changed forever. The top nine sides will form the first division, the bottom nine will be in the second and there is everything to play for. What there was to play for at Northlands Road was a draw, the absolute assurance that both sides would accrue four points each but that neither would gather 12 for victory.

Much of the sun-kissed day, the sort even in September that was created for cricket, and vice versa, was spent calculating the permutations of the table. Two counties are now mathematically secure of a place in the top strata, three others can feel pretty comfortable with life. All but two of the others can still avoid the dreadful, unknown fate that awaits them in division two. But the more realistic scenario is that six sides are vying for one of the four remaining places.

This it was that exercised minds as the sides - both of them part of that tightly bunched sextet - went through their paces yesterday. The bowlers bowled and the batsmen batted and in some cases the batsmen bowled, and one of them also kept wicket.

This has been one of the few grounds this summer where constant pitches have been prepared, but just this once, without rigging, under-preparation, or over-preparation, something conducive to providing a result might have been in order.

Eighteen wickets falling in four days in a contest featuring England's best fast bowler, Andrew Caddick, is not that.

Still, drifting aimlessly though it was, the match managed a landmark or two. Hampshire's first innings was swiftly concluded in the morning. Adrian Aymes, who had restored their fortunes on the third day when they somehow contrived to lose five wickets for 27 runs, remained unbeaten on 115. The seventh hundred of his career had lasted six hours.

Somerset were 80 runs ahead and it was inevitable that Somerset would then opt to bat for the rest of the day. It was not much less certain that their captain, Jamie Cox, would do likewise. He and Marcus Trescothick, the new England A player, put on 156 for the first wicket. This was their second century opening partnership of the match and if it was not in the most glorious of causes it was only the fourth time that such a feat had been achieved against Hampshire. The last occasion was in 1953 when Cyril Washbrook and Jack Ikin put on 101 and 118.

Trescothick played some hearty shots but he steered one to slip when he had a century for the taking. Cox, of course, did not. He went on to score his second hundred of the match from 193 balls. It was the fourth time in his career that he had reached three figures twice in the same game, it was the first time that any Somerset batsman had scored a double hundred and a hundred in one.

In the afternoon Derek Kenway, Hampshire's richly promising but slightly portly batsman, took over from Aymes behind the stumps. This was actually not quite as odd as it seemed in these circumstances. Not so long ago, Kenway was selected as wicketkeeper for the West's Under-15s team in place of one Chris Read.