Cricket / Round-Up: Leading contenders miss opportunities

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RAY ILLINGWORTH tempered his enthusiasm for England's stirring performance at The Oval with scarcely veiled disdain for standards in the Championship, and the way counties have shied away from taking control of the competition shows he has a fair point, writes Hugh Bateson.

Surrey have lost three matches in succession, Leicestershire have lost two of their last three outings, most recently inside two days, Nottinghamshire's sneak up on the rails has been by dint of a run of played four, won two, lost two - as has Sussex's - while Somerset have gone won, drawn, lost, won.

Surrey failed yesterday by 68 runs to make the 130 they needed to avoid an innings defeat by Hampshire. Shaun Udal celebrated his Texaco call-up with five wickets. Something of Surrey's stomach for the fight is shown in the fact that their last five wickets fell in 75 minutes.

Nottinghamshire came unstuck at Kidderminster, where they set Worcestershire 362 to win. Contrasting centuries by Gavin Haynes, whose 141 came of 143 balls, and included a six and 26 fours, and Tim Curtis, who took 276 balls and 324 minutes to reach three figures, took Worcestershire to a five- wicket win.

Of the leading contenders, Nottinghamshire have the run-in most likely to yield rich pickings - all their remaining games will be played at Trent Bridge, although Leicestershire are the only ones involved in all four

remaining rounds of matches.

That other traditional late- season sport, selector nudging, was done most powerfully by Martin McCague, the Kent fast bowler, who finished with match figures of 15 for 147 (6 for 61 in the second innings) in a 69-run win against Derbyshire at Derby. McCague looked back to his vigorous best, despite a dead pitch, as he took his season's wicket total to 61. He also contributed a crucial 47 with the bat to set up his county's fourth win in five games.

Mike Gatting also had Australia on his mind, romping to his second double century of the season but Rob Bailey hit an unbeaten 129 to help Northamptonshire to a last- ball victory when set 305 in 64 overs. Middlesex had earlier announced that the New Zealand pace bowler, Dion Nash, would be their overseas player next season.

Not for the first time, Gloucestershire had to thank Courtney Walsh for victory. He did it with the bat this time, smashing 31 from 17 balls in a two-wicket win at Old Trafford.