Cricket: Watkinson the wonder

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The Independent Online
Lancashire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .176 and 349

Hampshire. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .100 and 124-6

IF Lancashire's ground staff turn up today to find a crater in the field the finger of suspicion will point straight at Mike Watkinson. There is little doubt that the Lancashire captain would love to roll up this strip and carry it with him all season.

It had undergone a bizarre transformation, in perfect step with Watkinson's evolving role in the game, as he became the first Lancashire player since Len Hopwood in 1933 to score a century and take 10 wickets in a Championship game.

Like his county colleague, Mike Atherton, he is showing definite signs that the responsibility of captaincy is benefiting his game. He has often been mentioned, albeit tentatively, as an England possible and while this may well have escaped a 32- year-old, there can be few more accomplished genuine all- rounders on the county circuit.

Any raised eyebrows following his decision to bat first had already been lowered when his side took a 76-run lead into the second innings after they had bowled Hampshire out for just 100.

Watkinson's career-best eight for 30 was achieved when the ball would have turned square for bowlers with the dexterity of Edward Scissorhands, but from yesterday's first over it was evidently now suited to his counter-attacking batting style. The fifth ball of the day was dispatched into the crowd and Watkinson hit two more straight sixes off Shaun Udal's off-spin before lunch.

With the ball now only turning slowly and irregularly, the Lancashire batsmen were beginning to trust the wicket. At the other end, Steve Titchard moved methodically towards his century. Both are tall men and use their reach to counter the variable bounce and it was only when the Hampshire skipper Mark Nicholas took the new ball that the run-flow was temporarily pegged.

Titchard was edgy on 99 and fell lbw to a straight, low delivery from Cardigan Connor, trying to work the ball to the leg-side. After lunch Wat kinson completed his 178-ball century and Wasim Akram joined in with crisp strokeplay, though the Hampshire bowling was never untidy. Connor's four wickets were achieved with nip rather than zip.

When Watkinson was stumped overbalancing to Raj Maru on 117, wickets fell quickly but the eventual Hampshire target of 426 looked hopelessly steep. Then Wasim and Peter Martin looked menacing with the new ball, each collecting a wicket after tea, but spin was again the all-important factor.

Watkinson, who found occasional sharp turn with his off- spinners, accounted for Kevan James and had the last word of the day when Maru was caught close to the wicket. Gary Yates, also bowling off-spin, had earlier followed his captain's example by snaring Keech and Aymes in similar fashion.