Derbyshire's new status as a centre for those seeking asylum from other counties paid dividends yesterday when, with the help of two of their latest signings, they beat Lancashire by six wickets with one over to spare, after Andrew Flintoff's quickfire 70 had helped the visitors score 218.
Mathew Dowman with 65, and Rob Bailey, unbeaten on 50, are at different stages of their careers. Yet coming to Derbyshire, a county with a reputation for being a nest of vipers, appears to have invigorated the pair, who were being phased out by their former counties.
The 25-year-old Dowman's innings was a particularly fine effort, after being released by Nottinghamshire last season. A left-hander, he timed the ball exquisitely, particularly through the off side. It is an area the 36-year-old Bailey now almost exclusively ignores, a fact that his huge leg-side six off Peter Martin - a blow that essentially ended Lancashire's hopes - neatly proved.
Together with Matthew Cassar, Dowman helped add 100 for the second wicket, of which his was the lion's share. His dismissal in the 31st over, caught at deep square leg by Graham Lloyd off Sourav Ganguly, caused his team to slow and they still needed 65 runs off the final 10. Indeed, had Lancashire not dropped four catches, three of them in the crucial last 10 overs, the result may well have been different. As its stands, Derbyshire now top the Northern Group with two matches remaining.
One-day cricket can be a cruel game and well though Dowman and Bailey played, the innings of the day belonged to Flintoff. Power is a great advantage at this time of year, when pitches and outfields are sluggish and the Lancashire all-rounder has it in spades. His knock, which lasted 75 balls and included eight fours and a six, spoke of a talent for all seasons. In the Lancashire side, only Joe Scuderi with a brisk 42 came close to matching the ease with which he scored his runs.
Yet Flintoff's innings might never have been had Paul Aldred clung on to a return catch when the batsman was on 4. The strapping Lancastrian soon rectified the matter with a series of hearty blows over the infield. The introduction of Dowman was greeted with regal disdain, the Derbyshire all-rounder's opening ball dispatched high over long-on for six, to bring up his half-century.
If Flintoff has a weakness it is that one good thump appears to set off a feeding frenzy. Better control of those aggressive urges are what the Lancashire coach, Bobby Simpson, feels will be the key to Flintoff's improvement. Yesterday, his demise for 70, from a skied pull, was again attributable to a rush of blood. With 14 overs of the innings to go, a century should really have been his target.
At the time, his team-mates would not have quibbled, because none looked much at home on the slow, seaming pitch after Derbyshire had put them in. Michael Atherton and John Crawley had several shouts against them for lbw before Atherton was given out shouldering arms to Munton, who later accounted for Crawley, caught off bat and pad by Karl Krikken as the wicket-keeper stood up to the stumps.
Ganguly, who appears to have struck up a close relationship with his long-sleeved fleece since arriving in England, fared little better after a wristy flourish at a ball outside off stump ended up in Cork's hands at slip. His bowling also looked ill at ease in the cold wind and, along with Martin, who had a poor match, he proved expensive with the ball.
J P Crawley c Krikken b Munton 12 M A Atherton lbw b Munton 7 S C Ganguly c Cork b Aldred 10 A Flintoff c Krikken b Dowman 70 N H Fairbrother c Bailey b Dowman 23 G D Lloyd not out 35 J C Scuderi c Cork b Aldred 42 W K Hegg not out 0 Extras 19 Total 6 wkts Innings Complete (50 overs) 218 Fall: 1-14 2-27 3-33 4-129 5-129 6-213 Did Not Bat: I D Austin, P J Martin, M P Smethurst.
Bowling: Cork 10 1 35 0 Munton 10 3 20 2 Aldred 10 1 59 2 Smith 4 0 21 0 Cassar 9 0 46 0 Dowman 7 0 28 2
M E Cassar c Hegg b Smethurst 43 M J Di Venuto b Austin 9 M P Dowman c Lloyd b Ganguly 65 R J Bailey not out 50 S D Stubbings c Hegg b Flintoff 14 D G Cork not out 26 Extras 12 Total 4 wkts (49 overs) 219 Fall: 1-18 2-118 3-134 4-168 Did Not Bat: S P Titchard, K M Krikken, P Aldred, T A Munton, T M Smith.
Bowling: Martin 9 0 53 0 Austin 10 4 21 1 Ganguly 8 0 42 1 Smethurst 10 0 43 1 Flintoff 9 1 40 1 Scuderi 3 0 13 0
Umpires: G I Burgess and J W Holder