Light Blues on the back foot

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The Independent Online

Lancashire did a glorious spring day proud. Fielding a first-choice side, they entertained a well above average crowd with competitive cricket that quickly had Cambridge University's batsmen on the back foot.

Metaphorically speaking. On a slow Fenner's pitch, the temptation is always to go on the front foot. Much good it did the early batsmen. Requiring 215 to avoid the follow on, Cambridge were 86 for 6 at lunch, the damage done primarily by Mike Smethurst's eight-over spell of 3 for 6.

The 23-year-old fast bowler generated good pace and, more importantly, maintained a consistent direction. He was helped initially by the kind of low slip catch we're beginning to take for granted from Andrew Flintoff - rather as we took them for granted from Ian Botham. That ended Richard Danson's role as a seminightwatchman.

An even better catch saw the back of Simon Lewis. Having leant positively into some easy drives early on and looked by far the most comfortable of the batsmen, he was superbly taken two-handed at third slip by Neil Fairbrother. The ball was going low and wide on his right as he turned to take it.

In between, Smethurst skittled Quentin Hughes, last year's Cambridge captain, going back when he might have gone forward, and the present captain, James Pyemont, was caught behind off the former South Australian Joe Scuderi. Scuderi, according to the new Wisden, was in fine form for Italy last summer and qualifies for Lancashire on an EU registration.

Pyemont's dismissal was Warren Hegg's 600th catch for Lancashire and he is closing fast on George Duckworth's county record of 634. It will take him some time to approach Duckworth's 288 stumpings, however, even if Chris Schofield develops as much as everyone hopes. The tyro leg-spinner certainly looked the part, and it wasn't just the shades - after all the sun was shining and shorts were sighted in the outer.

The few Warne-like strides to the wicket, and the way Schofield threw himself into his delivery gave every evidence of the young man's confidence. Only the batsmen failed to complete the illusion. Chris Sayers and Malcolm Birks may be reading economics and architecture respectively, but they looked equally well versed in leg spin. Schofield's first wicket, Ben Collins, contributed to his own demise by sweeping the spinner on to his own stumps via his body.

Cambridge's complications in the morning did nothing to diminish the crowd's interest. The laughing children running round, and the presence of some charming young women, augur well for the future of the game, despite the weary words of the cynics. Moreover, their presence encouraged a Light Blue revival, with Sayers and the wicketkeeper, Birks, flourishing in a half-century stand.

Lancashire switched their bowlers but to little avail. At lunch it had looked as if the game would be all over by the end of the day. Instead Cambridge have given their supporters good reason to come back today.

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