Cricket: Smith able to flower on dough

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The Independent Online
Hampshire ............260 v Northamptonshire

ROBIN SMITH has the makings of a great batsman. It is not that he scored two centuries against West Indies last year, or that he batted through the Pakistani whirlwind at The Oval. An infinitely finer feat than any of that was to have lifted Hampshire's scoring rate yesterday to two runs an over at Bournemouth.

Not even Friday's continual downpour could enliven the dough that is the Dean Park pitch. It was the 21st over of Hampshire's innings against Northamptonshire before the first intended boundary was hit. The 50 came up, after Hampshire had decided to bat first, in the 32nd over - and David Gower had been batting for part of that time.

Kevin Curran had to be pulled out of the attack by Allan Lamb when there was a danger of him conceding a run to Tony Middleton. Before then, Curran had bowled a complete spell of eight overs for eight maidens. Of course, it should be admitted that Curran might have bowled eight maidens in a row if Middleton had been batting at the WACA in Perth.

So the challenge facing Smith was the equal of anything he has faced this summer: and he responded, hitting three successive fours in an over by John Taylor, which is the local equivalent of six sixes. Helped by being dropped at mid-off, he hit 62 in two and a half hours, whereas Kevan James made 74 in over four.

Smith's confidence against spin has increased perceptibly since his tussle with Mushtaq in The Oval Test. He often played Nick Cook from the crease, but it was Cook's crease, after a sprint down the wicket. Smith should not be deterred by getting out in this way, when he charged, got a full toss low on the bat and was caught by a back-pedalling mid-on.

Smith's example was so invigorating that Hampshire went on to reach 241 for 5, if not a third batting point, by the end of 100 overs. Then they batted on, only to decline, since Dean Park has a reputation for uneven bounce and crumbling a little, as well as being utmost flaccid - which made David Ripley's wicketkeeping the more excellent. It is a pleasant setting, but its passing as a first-class ground will not be mourned by the cricketers.