Cricket: Walsh cuts through

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Nottinghamshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .318 and 110

Gloucestershire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .223 and 208-7

Gloucs won by three wickets

TAKE away Brian Lara and the outstanding West Indian of this year's County Championship must surely be Courtney Walsh. In a match of intriguing fluctuations, the 31-year-old Jamaican fast bowler produced the best figures of what is becoming an excellent season for him and, as a by-product, the circumstances for an unexpected Gloucestershire victory, achieved with a day to spare.

Nottinghamshire held the upper hand here effectively until Friday afternoon, when Jack Russell's stout resistance steered Gloucestershire away from serious trouble but still left a deficit of 95 on the first innings. The balance shifted emphatically yesterday morning, which turned out to be the decisive session.

In the first 85 minutes Nottinghamshire, 65 for four overnight, collapsed to 110 all out. Walsh did the damage, taking six wickets for 19 runs in eight and a half overs to finish with 7- 42. Gloucestershire were left to chase 206 to win, which was not a straightforward task on a pitch of variable bounce but which was achieved, after a couple of palpitations, with three wickets in hand at 6.35pm. Appropriately enough, Walsh struck the winning blow.

Nottinghamshire, winners of four of their first six games, were cursing themselves for missing the opportunity to rise to the top of the table but Gloucestershire's second victory of the season was no more than Walsh's efforts deserved.

After the Caribbean Test series, Walsh has returned to domestic business with a dutiful professionalism that not all of his international team-mates seem always to share. More than that, he has given a county of thin resources something extra with his captaincy, both as tactician and inspiration.

No one could fail to be lifted by the quality with which he performs in his primary role. Yesterday he brought the ball back off the seam at a pace which was too swift for most of his victims, five of whom fell lbw. But he had a deadly slower ball, as Paul Johnson, Nottinghamshire's first-innings century-maker, discovered when he lost the flight of a dipping full toss, which hit him on the boot plum in front.

Walsh's first-class wickets' total for the season stands at 47, bettered only by Min Patel of Kent. His match return of 12 for 102 would look better still with the exclusion of 30 runs conceded in no balls.

Gloucestershire's pursuit began amid controversy, the umpire Alan Whitehead needing to consult his colleague at square leg before confirming that Andy Afford had taken a return catch cleanly to dismiss a reluctant Chris Broad. With Gloucestershire at 74 for four, the game hung in the balance but the visitors regained the initiative with a sixth-wicket partnership of 72 between Russell and Bobby Dawson.