Cricket: Stewart and Brown provide the dashes of colour

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The Independent Online
Lancashire 129 and 71-2 v Surrey 301-9 dec

ALEC STEWART'S innings of 126 would have been the pinnacle of many a fine day's cricket. Instead, it was just the centrepiece of this one with such dazzling peripherals as Alistair Brown making a half-century from 39 balls with four sixes and five fours while Surrey took command.

Brown ultimately scored 64, including five sixes, all off Michael Watkinson, whose switch from seam to off-spin, was equivalent to the new Lancashire captain rubbing the magic lamp.

The genie duly appeared, a turning ball, and Watkinson dismissed David Ward, another considerable contributor to the entertainment, Adam Hollioake and Mark Butcher in the space of three overs. Surrey, from the cosy contentment of 217 for 3, lost their last seven wickets in 15 overs for 81 runs. It was more reminiscent of a Sunday thrash than a four-day match.

With rain interruptions, a bona fide equivalent of the first full day produced 430 runs for the loss of 19 wickets. It was May madness. Lancashire had been bowled out cheaply and Surrey batted with a death wish, perhaps distrusting the Northern weather and yearning to get in the opposition again, and add to their 24-point maximum from the opening match against Worcestershire.

When they did, Michael Atherton was brilliantly caught right- handed by the inevitable Brown at cover, adding to the irony that the only batsman to return from West Indies not to score runs so far has been the England captain.

Stewart's innings included 90 runs in 108 minutes before lunch. His driving was a model of balance and timing. He still examined the bottom of his bat intermittently and doubtless realised that the innings had to be considered in the context of a poor Lancashire attack. He was in a dismissive mood, dispatching Lancashire to all parts. Watkinson rotated his attack but it was simply a case of next for punishment.

When Wasim Akram joins the Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka in early July, the odds of 14-1 against Lancashire winning the title after a 60- year gap will probably seem miserly.

Peter Martin picked up a bonus wicket when Brown indulged in the wildest of heaves and Wasim, himself, bowled a variable line by his standards. The greenish pitch conspired with bowlers, but so did the batsmen. Surrey, with a hugely attractive array of stroke players, should have built a more substantial lead than 172 but they exchanged sides with speed, advancing the game beyond anyone's imagination.

Surrey's batsmen got out when they were in, with two of the three principal scorers bowled. Ward was the exception as he often is. Having emerged on the chilling first day in a black ski hat for a net, he wore a bright, four-coloured batting helmet, scored an ebullient half-century and was promptly caught, low at midwicket.

Lancashire finished 101 runs behind, having suffered the severe loss of John Crawley, caught in the slips, off Cameron Cuffy just before bad light ended play at 6.45 pm with seven scheduled overs remaining. Crawley had been dropped, first ball, at slip by Graham Thorpe off Cuffy, but then proceeded to share Lancashire's best partnership of the match so far, with Jason Gallian.

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