Cricket: Red roses in a hot house

County Championship: Lancashire and Wasim Akram crown a busy week by keeping tabs on the big prize; BY STEPHEN BRENKLEY at Trent Bridge Lancashire 218 & 193-7 Nottinghamshire 115
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The Independent Online
IT WOULD be pushing it a bit to suggest that Lancashire might be prepared to give up all their one-day silverware to lay their hands on the Championship trophy. But 48 years is an unconscionably long time for such a well-endowed club to have gone without the most significant prize in the domestic game and a Sunday League title here or NatWest Trophy there might have been worth sacrificing.

Even in 1950 they only clutched the trophy with one hand. Middlesex grasped the other handle as the counties finished level on points. The last time Lancashire could truly be described as champions was in 1934 and being runners-up in only three seasons since does not represent a fair return considering the talent which has been at their disposal.

By sustaining their challenge this summer they have succeeded for once in fulfilling expectations. It remains unlikely that they will pip either Leicestershire or Surrey at the post and the way they batted at times yesterday appeared to be a sign that they are short of stamina in the last furlong.

Their business here, in a contest which has been marked by an interminable parade of inauspicious batting, is not yet finished. Indeed, when they were 144 for 7 in mid-afternoon, only 247 ahead, Lancashire's position was more precarious than they would have liked. But an assertive eighth- wicket partnership between their beleaguered captain, Wasim Akram, and Glen Chapple gave them a distinct edge if only because Nottinghamshire can probably be relied on to bat as if they were giving an impression of towel throwing-in.

Victory for Lancashire should help to make for a palpitating climax to the Championship - and let us hope some cricket fans care enough to watch. The leading two clubs, Leicestershire and Surrey, will meet at The Oval.

Lancashire, who will be third if they beat Nottinhgamshire, play at Old Trafford against Hampshire and must hope their rivals slug each other to a standstill draw.

They may also need to score more runs. This encounter generally has been a sad reflection on batting skills, not least because English bowlers are regularly castigated for lacking the guile of their predecessors in days of yore. Lancashire made short work of Nottinghamshire at the start yesterday. They resumed 157 behind with six wickets in hand and in surrendering cut the deficit by only 54. Lancashire's attack had their usual nip but it was not bowling of genuine menace. A little late summer movement should not a collapse invoke.

Peter Martin and Ian Austin were the main beneficiaries, both bowling well enough to make the batsmen think. They did not always succeed as Chris Read, for one, demonstrated, by letting go a ball from Austin which cut back and removed his middle stump. The others were more regulation though the low slip catch which Andrew Flintoff took off Austin to despatch Paul Franks was another from his burgeoning canon in which the difficult is made to look elementary.

Wasim did not bowl. Maybe conditions did not suit him, maybe he has other matters on his mind. It has been some week for the former Pakistan captain.

He had led his adopted and beloved county to two trophies (the NatWest and the Axa League) when they decided they would hire another overseas professional, Muttiah Muralitharan, for next season. This was probably still hurting when a report from Pakistan renewed accusations that he and others were involved in rigging one-day internationals. This recommended that Wasim, Salim Malik and Ijaz Ahmed be suspended from international cricket until the issue is resolved. The Pakistan judiciary has been called in to invetsigate.

As Lancashire began their second innings, it looked initially as though Wasim might be spared much more work in this match. The opening pair, John Crawley and Mark Chilton, raced away. Crawley, the season's leading runs scorer, was in his pomp and there are few more attractive sights in the English game. He blazed away on all sides and made it all look so dashed easy and charming. But when he was out, Lancashire fell into traps previously occupied by Nottinghamshire and Franks claimed his reward with his fourth five-wicket tally of the season. It was not quite enough to halt Lancashire's pursuit of a greater prize.

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