Cricket: Warwickshire wrap up Championship in style

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Hampshire. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .278 and 163

Warwickshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .536

Warwickshire win by an innings and 95 runs

THE race for the Britannic Assurance title ended at 3.30pm here yesterday when umpire Ken Palmer, after a suitably dramatic pause, pointed his dismissive finger at the Hampshire No 11, Jimmy Bovill, to raise the first hurrah of what promises to be a heavy weekend for Warwickshire and their supporters.

Having been required to survive 90 overs to save the game and, in theory at least, keep the Championship alive, Hampshire were all out inside 51 overs for a rather pathetic 163, presenting Warwickshire with victory by an innings and a lead which is now, with three weeks of the season to go, beyond anyone's reach.

A shirt-sleeved crowd, having grown to almost 3,000 on a golden afternoon, spilled on to the field in large numbers in a foretaste of scenes that will be repeated at Lord's today if Worcestershire are beaten in the NatWest final.

The Championship silverware was handed over immediately after the conclusion here, accompanied by a cheque for pounds 48,500. Dermot Reeve, the captain, graciously stepped to one side so that Tim Munton could be first to lay a hand on the glinting Lord's Taverner's Trophy. The big-hearted seam-bowler has captained Warwickshire in nine matches with Reeve so often absent through injury. Eight of their 11 wins have been achieved under his leadership, including this one.

Addressing supporters from the committee balcony, Reeve described Munton's captaincy as 'fabulous' and, tongue in cheek, congratulated himself on omitting his own name from the teamsheet on several occasions when he might have played. 'It was sometimes a difficult decision but my effectiveness with bat and ball this season has been very limited,' he said, acknowledging that his own contribution to his side's success has amounted to just seven wickets and 109 runs.

Reeve said his elation at Warwickshire's first Championship since 1972 had been tempered by the failure of the England tour selectors to recognise more than one member of his squad and the casting of Warwickshire by some commentators as only an average team in a sub-standard Championship.

'I find it extremely disappointing that only Keith Piper has been selected,' he said. 'I'd hoped that Tim Munton would at least go on the A tour to India and I am shocked that Roger Twose has been overlooked because he has had a fabulous season in all cricket. And if you ask any players on the circuit you would find that Dominic Ostler and Neil Smith are very highly rated.' The non-selection of Twose may well have a bearing on the future of the left- handed opener, who is considering emigration to New Zealand.

'There is no way,' Reeve added, 'that we can be an average team from the way we are at this stage of the season, with the chance to win everything. It hurts to be described this way.'

Reeve said that winning the Championship was a tribute to the character of his players, a sentiment echoed by the coach, Bob Woolmer. 'All the players have worked very hard for each other. They are a magnificent squad, one of the best I have worked with,' he said.

Warwickshire finished 16th in the table last year and began this season as rank outsiders, despite the considerable coup of introducing Brian Lara as their overseas player following his record Test innings of 375. But Reeve's belief in his team's potential was confirmed, he said, as early as the second round of games when, having been outplayed, Warwickshire salvaged a draw with Leicestershire, thanks in no small part to Lara's unselfish batting.

Woolmer pointed to the defeat of the erstwhile leaders, Surrey, at Guildford in July as a turning point, a victory made possible by two uncapped players, Dougie Brown and Graeme Welch. Warwickshire moved into pole position two weeks later and have not been headed, despite suffering their only defeat against the challengers Nottinghamshire at Edgbaston last month.

Lara's contribution, amounting to 2,066 runs including nine centuries and, of course, his world record 501 not out against Durham in June, has been immense, valuable in almost equal measure for its inspirational quality.

In this match, Lara's imperious 191, combined with Twose's 137, created the platform for yesterday's euphoria, but again it was the yeomen who made sure it counted.

Munton dismissed both openers either side of lunch, when Hampshire were 35 for 1, to improve his tally of first-class wickets to 81 before, with conditions in their favour, the spinners went to work. Smith's off-breaks claimed 5 for 65, including the wicket of Bovill, which wrapped things up, but it was Richard Davis, the left-armer, who had made the decisive inroads, taking 3 for 0 in the space of six deliveries.

----------------------------------------------------------------- WARWICKSHIRE'S ASSAULT ON COUNTY CRICKET'S 'GRAND SLAM' ----------------------------------------------------------------- COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP Secured title yesterday, more than two weeks before the end of the season, by beating Hampshire. NATWEST TROPHY Meet Worcestershire in the final today at Lord's in attempt to win their third consecutive cup final. BENSON AND HEDGES CUP Beat Worcestershire by six wickets in last month's final at Lord's. SUNDAY LEAGUE With three weekends of the season remaining, lead the table by two points from Kent. -----------------------------------------------------------------

NatWest preview, page 20

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