Muralitharan spins a rare yarn

Leicestershire 202 and 251 Lancashire 292 and 164-4 Lancashire won by 6 wkts
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There is a strong probability that Muttiah Muralitharan likes appearing at Old Trafford ­ he takes plenty of wickets there and it is his home county ground after all ­ but there is just one problem: he rarely plays here.

During his previous spell with Lancashire, the glorious semi-summer of 1999 that yielded 66 wickets in 12 Championship innings, he appeared in just one match in Manchester. This time he may turn his arm over in anger just twice on Peter Marron's made-to-measure pitches. Twice this season, against Surrey and Glamorgan, Muralitharan was kept in the pavilion by the teeming rain, and as he has only three Championship fixtures before international commitments drag him from Lancashire's grasp next month he will get only one more chance to appear at home. Still, you could hardly call him a slouch when he does get a chance to display his bewitching skills.

On his only other match here he took 13 for 134 against Essex. Yesterday he massaged respectable overnight figures of 3 for 65 into the hugely impressive 6 for 74, wreaking havoc with the Leicestershire second innings. By the time he had finished torturing the tail, Lancashire had 162 to chase off 46 overs, a target they hit 4.5 overs early for the loss of four wickets.

It proved a satisfactory conclusion for Lancashire, who move to third place in the First Division, but less so for Leic-estershire, who began the day with the tantalising prospect of forcing their second Championship win of the season but finished it comprehensively beaten. The Foxes' game plan was shot to pieces.

That had involved extending their overnight lead of 118 to around 200, then getting the best part of two sessions to bowl out Lancashire. But rain washed out the morning, leaving no time, then Muralitharan snuffed out the innings, which disintegrated in 15 overs for a meagre 43 more runs.

At least the end came quickly. Jonathan Dakin had crashed a glorious drive through the covers when Peter Martin's off-cutter removed a bail with the fifth ball of the day. The tail was left exposed for Muralitharan to tease.

Prior to this match he had taken only seven Championship wickets, suggesting either the pitches have been less favourable or English batsmen have worked him out. Yesterday the Leicestershire players had not, groping wildly around in the hope of trying to read the whirling fingers.

Carl Crowe and Darren Maddy were both caught round the corner, the latter to an athletic catch to his left by Mike Atherton for the innings' highest score of 40, and when James Ormond threatened to become a pest with a few lusty blows, Muralitharan swatted him with his quicker ball.

Faced with scoring at less than four an over, John Crawley laid the Lancastrian foundations with a brisk 50 in 78 balls that included six fours, and Andy Flintoff all but finished Leicestershire off with an even brisker 43 (six fours and two sixes). The real damage had been done by Muralitharan.