Cricket: Smith studies art of batting

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The Independent Online
Leicestershire 451-3 dec

Cambridge 261-6

After the innocents of Cambridge were put to the sword by Derbyshire in midweek, it came as no surprise to find the foxes of Leicestershire picking over the pieces. Some choice pieces too, for the county champions. The big question is why the rest of us were here. It was cold and grey, and while traditionally the wind comes all the way from the Urals, it was certainly nippy enough whistling over the urinals in the corner of the ground.

It's another Fenner's tradition that batsmen come here to score runs, so it may be churlish to state the obvious. The university bowling is rarely above club standard and nowhere near first-class. In the opening skirmishes Cambridge have already conceded 814 runs for their 10 wickets.

When it comes to batting, however, Cambridge have something to offer, not only to their hardy supporters but to the counties. Ed Smith, who like Will House is on Kent's books, has argued a persuasive case this past week for the university matches to retain their first-class links, following his 85 against Derbyshire on Tuesday with a career-best 142 not out yesterday. Batting against County bowlers on good pitches, as they appear to have at Fenner's again, breeds confidence, and that in turn encourages the strokeplay that a young professional often eschews as he secures his place.

Smith, still only 19, held the Cambridge innings together without compromising his well-put-together game. Having scored 20 at lunch, he broke Matthew Brimson's slow left-arm spell in the afternoon session with assured footwork and reached 50 off 115 balls with his eighth four. After tea, he set about David Millns with relish, pulling the fast bowler convincingly when he pitched short. His 100 came off 206 balls with 13 fours and if he looked more composed playing forward, he was never hurried playing back.

With the captain, Anurag Singh, again failing, Smith's principal support came from fellow opener John Ratledge, and from Quinton Hughes and Mark Dawson in half-century stands. But on a day when Leicestershire's bowling looked ordinary, the other Cambridge batsmen should be disappointed that they didn't capitalise. After Smith the next highest score was 23.

Leicestershire's bowlers must step up a few gears if they are to have a tilt at the title this summer. Until Brimson brought Cambridge to a standstill with six successive maidens, and Ratledge's wicket, before lunch it was hard to see Leicestershire breaking through. True, they were without Alan Mullally, just back from Australia, but from the side that won the Championship the vital absentee is Phil Simmons. Leicestershire might find another overseas player, but replacing Simmons will take some doing.

First thing yesterday Leicestershire batted on 20 minutes for the tall left-hander, John Dakin, to post a career best 103 not out off 117 balls. It meant Cambridge needed 302 to avoid the follow on; Smith made it look possible.

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