Cricket: Simmons lightens gloom in home farewell: After beating Hampshire, Leicestershire look favourites to take runners-up position in County Championship

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Hampshire 225 and 243

Leicestershire 353 and 117-3

Leicestershire win by seven wickets

WHAT might have been was highest among the conversational topics of Leicestershire members huddled together in the chill gloom here yesterday. Their favourites, fortified by a brisk 47 from Phil Simmons, had moved nearer to finishing as runners-up. It offers a potential consolation prize after being challengers a few weeks ago to Warwickshire, the newly-crowned champions.

With one match remaining, against Lancashire, starting at Old Trafford on Thursday, Leicestershire are 11 points ahead of Nottinghamshire, who play the fourth-placed Middlesex, a further five points adrift, at Trent Bridge.

In achieving their eighth championship win, having lost five of the previous seven games, Leicestershire assumed the role of shower- dodgers, making their match- winning runs in excess of four an over. They have been champions once, in 1975, and occupied second place for the only time so far in 1982.

A grey canopy of cloud, together with the delaying tactics of a Hampshire last- wicket partnership of 22 between Adrian Aymes and Jim Bovill, were threats to Leicestershire's advance. A 15-minute stoppage, followed by another shower and an early lunch were sundry barriers to their claim for pounds 24,250, the reward for second place.

The Shaun Udal factor offered Leicestershire some anxiety. The England off spinner dismissed Simmons, caught down the leg side, and James Whitaker, leg-before heaving in pursuit of runs to beat the rain, but Hampshire had too few tucked away, especially as Cardigan Connor and Bovill were punished for 35 runs in the six overs before Udal's introduction.

Simmons was at his dismissive best after cobbling together only 120 runs in 11 previous championship innings and only four half centuries this summer, including the one which he turned into 261 against Northamptonshire at Grace Road in his debut innings last April.

In bidding au revoir to the ground until returning for the second year of his contract in 1996, Simmons added his biggest innings for six weeks and produced best championship bowling figures of 4 for 68.

His whippy medium pace was too quick for Udal and Gordon Parsons took Martin Thursfield low at slip on a jubilant day for Simmons. Next summer, Hansie Cronje, the South African Test batsman, will be his replacement.

Under Simmons' influence, Hampshire had lost their last five wickets for 91 runs by early afternoon and Leicestershire completed victory by 4pm.

Aymes also had something to celebrate in a match featuring wicketkeepers as run-makers. He has enjoyed his best season with the bat in seven years while Paul Nixon's 100 in the first innings pointed Leicestershire toward victory.