Cricket: Warwickshire play waiting game

Sussex 99 & 176 v Warwickshire 207 & 71-3 Warwickshire win by 7 wkts
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WHATEVER THE merits or otherwise of splitting the Championship in two, the impending division of the 18 counties has created a climax to the season like none before. The combatants in this match could find themselves in different sections next year or the same. But even though Warwickshire probably clinched a top-flight place by wrapping up victory inside two days yesterday, they will not know for sure, perhaps even until tomorrow, depending on what happens at Leicester and Derby.

Two days? Actually, it was 159.5 overs. Little wonder that the pitches inspector, Chris Wood, turned up to determine whether Warwickshire had been playing fair, which only added to the tension. Given that any number of inadequate pitches have escaped censure this season, a penalty here would have represented particularly rough justice but the Wood party kept the locals on tenterhooks, waiting until well after tea before announcing that no further action would be taken.

In truth, the ball swung and seamed and then turned to a degree that made batting a test, although not enough to excuse the shortcomings revealed. This was the verdict of the umpires, in any case, just as it has been on most of the occasions when there has been a clatter of wickets.

Warwickshire, needing to win to stand any chance of sneaking belatedly into the top nine, always held the upper hand yesterday. Sussex had not lost a wicket but still trailed by 93 when play began after lunch and were kept under pressure throughout, a situation in which all bar Toby Pierce and Tony Cottey were found wanting.

After Tim Munton and Ed Giddins had accelerated the cause by reducing Sussex to 20-3, in which time Wasim Khan suffered the ignominy of a pair against his former employers, Neil Smith turned to Ashley Giles, his left- arm spinner, to exploit conditions that were changing in his favour.

Although it took a hour for him to make a breakthrough, Giles did not disappoint. Pierce, who had played sensibly for his 39, was finally undone by a ball that turned and lifted as the 17-year-old Ian Ball pouched his first county catch at forward short-leg. Thereafter, although Cottey employed the wisdom of his years to bat for more than three hours, he could find no adhesive partners.

Giles finished with a season's best 5 for 63 from 24.1 overs, finishing off by clean bowling Cottey for 73. Warwickshire were thus left to score 69 to win. Smith claimed the extra half-hour, and Nick Knight's unbeaten 40 saw them home by seven wickets.

Both sides were thus able to end their own seasons in the top half of the table, although should Hampshire win at Derby and Durham leave Leicester with 10 points or more, they might both yet be in the bottom half by tomorrow.

n Adrian Aymes added 86 to two centuries in his previous three games as Hampshire went in search of the victory at Derbyshire which would cement their place in the First Division. Aymes' departure prompted Robin Smith to declare on 362 for 8 and the home side were 143 for 3 and 219 behind.

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