Cricket: Wasim keeps hopes alive

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The Independent Online
Lancashire 185

Hampshire 74-5

AFTER A tense day, Lancashire's hopes of their first outright title since 1934 were only just alive. They failed to take a batting bonus point, which means that their maximum yield from this last match is now 20 points. As Leicestershire were 11 ahead before they began batting at The Oval, today could be decisive.

Lancashire did win two bowling points after tea, cheering a good crowd, hunched in the cool wind, hoping for history. Both captains named two spinners, expecting turn, but the quicker men ruled, at least on this first day.

A bright morning had clouded over when Lancashire chose to bat. Players in the World Cup next year will wear not only coloured shirts but names and numbers, too; Mike Atherton and John Crawley batted against opening bowlers, one of whom, Nixon McLean, wore an ear-ring and the other, Alex Morris, a pony-tail.

The game is not so much changing as reverting to its appearance 200 years ago when white was far from uniform and Nelson's sailors, certainly, might have been described as piratical.

This pitch, too, would have been recognised by the Hambeldon men. Brown and bumpy, it seamed beautifully for the fast-mediums Morris (4 for 57) and Kevan James (4 for 22), the ball also lifting when McLean hit the deck. So even while Crawley was seeking runs - one classic back-foot force off Morris - Lancashire toiled 14 overs for 26.

Crawley, pulling at Dimitri Mascarenhas' first ball, skied off a top edge, Adrian Aymes completing the catch at square leg. After that, only Atherton of the recognised batsmen could stem the tide as Hampshire demonstrated their catching expertise, especially Will Kendall. Even Iron Mike, after spending 40 overs over 45, succumbed at slip.

Ian Austin signalled a change of tactics by driving two of his first three balls for four, then hitting Mascarenhas straight for six and, where possible, the tail followed his example, Gary Yates especially. The one disappointment was the captain, Wasim Akram, who bids goodbye to Lancashire, batting at eight and holing out to mid on.

But the last five wickets more than doubled the score and 185 loomed mountain-high when Hampshire lost their first four wickets for 23, three to Wasim for 14 runs, including Robin Smith, in nine overs. Kendall, arriving at 9 for 1, shone again. He was dogged and defiant in 28 overs, as was Atherton.

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