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Injured Bell sounds Oval Ashes alarm

Hampshire 290 Warwickshire 272 Hampshire win by 18 runs

Congratulations to Hampshire, who have waited 14 years to win this trophy and did so without the charismatic captain Shane Warne, who will be back centre stage at The Oval later this week.

Yesterday's game took place in the shadow of that climactic Test. Everyone had more than half an eye on the players with a role in that game.

The best performer, and greatest worry, was Ian Bell. He scored 54, but he holed out lamely at mid-on and limped off exuding discomfort from every pore. The original attack looked like cramp but when it did not go away, the strokeplay and timing of the major part of the innings was suddenly eclipsed.

The diagnosis in the Warwickshire dressing room was severe cramp, but it was not a particularly hot day and he had been in for only 84 balls. Crossed fingers are required.

Kevin Pietersen was promoted in the order and cheered on to the ground. He lasted exactly 10 balls before getting out in a familiar way, caught on the mid-wicket boundary by Ashley Giles, just as he had been caught by Damien Martyn in the Lord's Test. Pietersen's admirers wanted a bigger performance and he needed one.

Giles's catch was a good one, and his bowling comme ci, comme ça - 50 runs off 10 overs and no wickets.

Chris Tremlett, England's nearly man of the summer, looked fit but bowled very short, and his first eight overs cost 41 runs but went on to take 2 for 48. Had the Australians watched him, they would have concluded that he was no Simon Jones.

Having won the toss, Warwickshire elected to chase the runs, and after 30 overs they must have questioned their strategy. Hampshire had lost only one wicket for 158 runs. Sean Ervine, the accomplished 22-year-old who has turned his back on Zimbabwe, was cruising along in his sixties, and Nic Pothas, the South African Greek, was accumulating steadily at the other end. They were one short of their 100 stand. Hampshire looked set for a total comfortably over 300.

Ervine, a stockily built blond, had scored exactly 100 in Hampshire's semi-final against Yorkshire. In the second round, he took 5 for 50 against Glamorgan. He bowls right-arm medium and bats left-handed - an ambidextrous all-rounder. A powerful hitter, his fifty came off 41 balls. It looked effortless.

And there was so much more to come. Pothas was out for 68, caught behind swishing at a bouncer from Neil Carter, just as John Crawley had been earlier, for 29.

In came Pietersen, who contrived to find the man on the mid-wicket fence. Giles dived forward to his right and was so pleased with himself that he turned to the spectators in the Mound Stand and took a bow.

At 206 for 3, Shane Watson came in radiating promise. He is a surprise candidate for Australia at the Oval.

The failure to speed up the run-rate was striking. When Ervine reached the 80s, he started to play like a man who had caught caution in the wind. His second fifty took seven balls longer than the first. After he did reach his hundred - in 91 balls - he threw caution back into the wind and was caught at long-off by Jim Troughton off Jonathan Trott, just as Watson had been two balls earlier.

But the tail did not wag. The last seven wickets fell for 41 runs off 29 balls. A flurry of boundaries from Andy Bichel helped but, while 290 looked good, it was disappointing after such a sterling start.

One of those last wickets was a controversial run-out. Makhaya Ntini grabbed the ball from a forward defensive prod and threw down the wickets at the bowler's end while Greg Lamb was short of the crease. Ntini seemed to impede Lamb. He might or might not have slowed Lamb's reaction time. Richie Benaud thought so and despaired of the Spirit of Cricket at its home . Geoffrey Boycott said it is up to the batsman to push past the bowler. Score it a points win for Boycott.

There was nothing wrong with Ervine's direct hit to dismiss Carter, who threatened to stroll off with the Man of the Match award, having taken 5 for 66, then scoring 32 out of the first 44 runs.

But Nick Knight moved into contention with an innings that began slowly, accelerated when he put on 100 in 128 balls with Bell and then decelerated, like Ervine, when he was in the nineties.

As Warwickshire's required run-rate rose steadily, so did the noise level from Hampshire's supporters, who, with 10 overs to go, had begun to smell victory.