Cricket: Smethurst saves Lancashire

239-8 Lancashire 243-9 Lancashire win by one wicket
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The Independent Online
THE HOLDERS, Lancashire, kept their grip on the NatWest Trophy, but only just. They have won the competition seven times before but had to rely on a rookie bowler and the edge of his bat as this fourth-round tie went to the last over.

Mike Smethurst, who made his first-team debut at the start of the season, had already taken four Hampshire wickets in an impressive display of bowling, but it was his batting that was decisive after Lancashire found themselves staring at defeat having lost nine wickets and still needing five runs for victory.

At the other end was another bowler, Peter "Digger" Martin, who had heroically shouldered the responsibility for steering Lancashire into a winning position after his batting betters had come and gone - Neil Fairbrother, Graham Lloyd and Andy Flintoff among them.

Martin, who finished unbeaten on 31, laid into the Hampshire attack and two runs were required from the last over. Martin stole a leg bye, thereby exposing Smethurst to fast bowler Nixon McLean. The first ball he received was greeted with a nervy prod and McLean strode into the distance back to his mark. He turned and sent down an absolute screamer, which Smethurst drove at but succeeded only in edging behind. The ball flew into the slip cordon, where John Stephenson, whose bowling had been hammered for 60 wicketless runs, allowed it to slip through his hands and to the boundary.

The Hampshire batting generally lacked conviction even though the opening pair of Jason Laney and Derek Kenway compiled the county's first century opening stand of the season in any form of cricket.

Perhaps still stunned at the achievement, the pair were then parted when Kenway made a poor choice in dealing with a full-length ball from Mark Chilton having passed 50 in only his second NatWest innings.

The Hampshire knock had progressed at a steady four runs an over to that point, but after the wicket fall there was a lull before Robin Smith, the captain, quickened the pace as 46 runs were added in five overs. Laney also started to hit out, but when Smith departed the impetus was lost again.

Only a late flurry from Stephenson and McLean pushed the score anywhere near to a realistic target, Laney falling just before the end of the innings and missing out on a hundred by just five runs.

The remarkable thing about the Hampshire innings was the fact that they seemed able to deal with the menace of the Sri Lankan off spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who was hit for 48 runs from his 10 overs and did not take a wicket.

The damage inflicted by Lancashire came from a more unexpected source, the seamer and ultimately man of the match Smethurst. He sent down a devastating second spell which tore the spirit out of Hampshire as they lost four wickets for 20 runs to the 22-year-old in his final four overs.

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