Cricket: Udal finds right track

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The Independent Online
Hampshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .192 and 220

Gloucestershire . . . . . . . . . . . .132 and 115

Hampshire won by 165 runs

WHILE batsmen bask in the praise that rewards a big innings on a flat track, bowlers like Winston Benjamin and Shaun Udal must find it tiresome that their match-winning efforts are greeted with a post-mortem examination of the wicket rather than equivalent congratulations.

Yesterday they worked beautifully to earn Hampshire a badly needed first Championship win of the season. Then the qualification - their county treasurer, for one, cannot be entirely happy with a club pitch that produces a result before Saturday lunch.

Quick bowlers and spinners alike relish a hard wicket offering steep bounce such as that provided here for this match, while batsmen can only nurse their bruises and wonder how they can conjure four days of entertainment from a bony track encouraging bonanza bowling. In the case of the Hampshire opener Sean Morris the bruise surrounds a broken finger.

For many weeks into this season the wretched weather was forcing a return to three- day cricket, eeked out over four days, and since the sun came out there seem to have been just as many such games, now played to a finish on Saturday.

Although the Gloucestershire captain Courtney Walsh led from the front with three wickets in each innings, it was his West Indian colleague Benjamin who began to repay Hampshire's investment by taking early control of the match.

Benjamin took half of Gloucestershire's first wickets at a miserly rate to leave the visitors a crucial 60 runs adrift at the half-way stage before top-scoring with a confident 54 in Hampshire's second knock.

When play began yesterday morning Gloucestershire's top four batsmen had already gone and the score stood at 43 for four. Robert Dawson and the nightwatchman Martyn Ball might have dreamed of making headlines but victory was still 238 runs away. By now the strip was sporting a dusty coat to add to its dangers and Udal, bowling unchanged, took full advantage with his high-stepping, popping off breaks.

In between the deliveries that fizzed almost vertically, Ball started breezily, knowing that a watchful approach could still attract the unplayable ball. But after 30 minutes he scooped Benjamin to Rupert Cox at mid-off.

Mark Alleyne, next in, suffered the ill luck that invariably dogs a struggling side when a ball from Udal struck his pad and kept on spinning into the stumps. When Dawson gave Udal a fourth wicket at midday, the caterers were contemplating a glut of chicken salad.

Benjamin remained a lively threat, sharing the remaining wickets with Udal, but it was the off spinner who took second-innings honours as, at 12.37, Hampshire clocked up their precious 20 points.