Habib stakes his claim

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The Independent Online

Continuity may be England's new buzzword but old habits die hard, and a glance back only to last season reveals a classic example of a talent identified and hurriedly cast aside.

When Aftab Habib was chosen to face New Zealand, his admirers in the Leicestershire dressing room were relieved that his fine batsmanship had at last been recognised and sure that the selectors would soon be congratulating themselves. Unfortunately, a little daunted by the occasion, he made a nervous start, suffering an early dismissal at Lord's, and when a heavy defeat in the Second Test at Edgbaston prompted the search for a suitable scapegoat it was Habib who was seen as the one who should make way.

Typically, it was a decision not heavy with logic. While banging on about the need to give talent the chance to flourish, the England hierarchy showed their usual impatience and a batsman with a first-class average above 40 and a natural gift was told to go away and try again to make a case.

He has presented some pretty sound evidence here, saving Leicestershire with a splendid, patient innings, spanning almost eight hours, pleasantly illuminated with handsome, superbly timed drives through the covers and with the elegant, wristy shots he plays so naturally off his legs. He accumulated 21 fours.

As he led Leicestershire off, unbeaten on 172, having turned 34 for 4 into a first-innings lead of 125, with the help of fifth-wicket partner Jon Dakin's 135, the wise Jack Birkenshaw, his county manager, could not help but enthuse and offer a plea to the selectors not judge on first impressions.

"I think people have to be fair and appreciate that he is a nervous lad," Birkenshaw said. "When he is confident there is nothing wrong with his technique or temperament and it should certainly not be the end of him as a Test player. If people work on him and treat him right I'm sure he will play well for England."

Habib and Dakin, a latedeveloping all-rounder awarded his county cap yesterday, added 275 before Dakin, against the new ball, sliced a drive to cover. Somerset's Graham Rose and Jamie Grove, the main seamers, took five wickets each on a slow pitch, the latter catching the eye with a spiky performance on his first-class county debut.


Somerset won toss

Somerset - First Innings 262 (Trescothick 105, Blackwell 58)

Leicestershire - First Innings

Overnight 275-4

A Habib not out 17 J M Dakin c Cox b Grove 135 N D Burns c Turner b Grove 6 P A J DeFreitas c Burns b Grove 0 A Kumble c Turner b Rose 4 C D Crowe c Turner b Rose 9 J Ormond lbw b Grove 8 Extras (b4 lb10 w4 nb12) 30 Total (139.5 overs) 387 Fall: 1-20, 2-24, 3-29, 4-34, 5-309, 6-323, 7-323, 8-336, 9-368.

Bowling: G D Rose 34-11-74-5, J O Grove 30.5-7-90-5, K A Parsons 12-3-41-0, M E Trescothick 8-0-50-0, I D Blackwell 29-9-78-0, A R K Pierson 26-8-40-0.

Somerset - Second Innings

*J Cox c Burns b Kumble 24 M E Trescothick not out 30 P C L Holloway not out 0 Extras (b9 lb8) 17 Total (for 1, 31.4 overs) 71 Fall: 1-66. To Bat: P D Bowler, M Burns, ;R J Turner, K A Parsons, I D Blackwell, G D Rose, A R K Pierson, J O Grove.

Bowling: J Ormond 5-2-10-0, P A J DeFreitas 9-4-17-0, A Kumble 11-3-17-1, C D Crowe 1-0-3-0, J M Dakin 5.4-2-7-0.

Umpires: M J Harris and T E Jesty.