Cricket: Whitaker tempted to take a breather

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The Independent Online
James Whitaker, captain of the championship leaders Leicestershire, travels to Swansea today more in hope than expectation of playing. Whitaker, who tore a calf muscle almost a fortnight ago, rates his fitness chances as 50-50 but in reality, they are much less.

With six matches remaining, including the Glamorgan game, Leicestershire head the table by three points and have a game in hand over second-placed Yorkshire, who are without a match. To sustain their impetus, the top team must gloss over the absence of the left-arm seamer Alan Mullally, on Test duty at Headingley, and hope that Gordon Parsons, who has been carrying an ankle injury for three weeks, maintains his typically effervescent performances.

The fast bowler David Millns, absent from the drawn match against Northamptonshire this week because of a lower-back strain, is expected to return to a side including the latest member of the championship centurians' club, Darren Maddy. With four wins in their past five games, Leicestershire are the form team but Whitaker has the odd regret.

"Frankly, we could have done without playing both major tourists, India and Pakistan, this summer. We feel a bit saturated at present and the Pakistan match starts at Grace Road next Wednesday [14 August]. I might be tempted to miss the Glamorgan match and the tour game and have a fortnight's rest as a precaution because I cannot risk being ruled out of vital end of season matches," he said.

By a fixture quirk, Lancashire, who play Surrey at Southport today, had no first class games outside their championship programme this season, with the exception of the annual four-day friendly against Yorkshire last April. That has barely assisted their championship performances and Surrey will test their end of season resolutions.

The last time that Lancashire played at Trafalgar Road two years ago, John Crawley scored 281 not out and Somerset were overpowered by an innings and 88 runs. This is Lancashire's 37th championship match at the compact and welcoming ground, where they have won 13 games, lost nine and drawn 14 since 1959. For anyone present - and I was - the epic match there against Warwickshire in 1982 will remain the outstanding championship contest of modern times.

Despite their third position, Surrey have held the widest ranging places of any county in the table, varying from top to 13th, while Lancashire have mooched around between 13th and 15th. Some of the shrewd money is now going on Essex to win the title. At present fourth, their highest position of the summer, they have dropped only one point from a possible 72 in winning their past three matches .

Essex meet Somerset at Taunton tomorrow while Dean Jones-inspired Derbyshire, now fifth, play Sussex, the conquerors of Yorkshire, at Hove. Out of sorts Nottinghamshire, who have just cut their playing staff from 28 to 25, have been told by Paul Johnson, their captain, to improve . . . or else.

They play Middlesex at Trent Bridge with the fast bowler Bobby Chapman, one of the released players, contemplating his future. Chapman, son of Sammy, the robust former Nottingham Forest footballer, had contrasting entries in his diary recently. They read: Saturday, career-best 4 for 109 against South Africa A at Trent Bridge. Sunday, my 24th birthday. Monday, sacked by Nottinghamshire. Who said a week was a long time just in politics

Michael Austin