Smethurst starts Somerset slide on damp pitch

Mike Denness, the man charged with ascertaining whether pitches around the country are up to competition standard, spent much of the lunch interval peering and prodding at a surface the colour of dirty straw. Black footprints confirmed that the outfield, for certain, was very damp.

Mike Denness, the man charged with ascertaining whether pitches around the country are up to competition standard, spent much of the lunch interval peering and prodding at a surface the colour of dirty straw. Black footprints confirmed that the outfield, for certain, was very damp.

Somerset lost six wickets for 38 runs in 17 overs after lunch. If what happened at Scarborough last week is any guide, then the England and Wales Cricket Board could soon announce that Lancashire have been docked eight points for an unfit pitch.

The evidence, m'lud, is that the ball swung through a cloudy morning, that Somerset did not bat with any great expertise or confidence, that Lancashire's bowlers kept the ball well up to the bat and that after lunch the odd ball bounced disconcertingly. There was less movement off the seam than at Sacrborough but there was also far more variable bounce. Twelve old cricketers, good and true, would certainly report back: Not Guilty.

However, these are curious times, and having driven spinners to the point of extinction by the promotion of one-day cricket, the Board is now insisting on dry, firm pitches that will turn later in the match. That is fine for Surrey, Lancashire and maybe Northamptonshire but the other 15 teams are trying to help their seamers and being persecuted for it. There may be blood on the walls after the ECB's autumn meeting.

Warren Hegg, leading Lancashire in the absence of John Crawley, sent Somerset in. The opening pair sailed through 13 overs before Mark Lathwell was bowled by a near-yorker, the first indication that the pitch might be less friendly than it appeared.

This was confirmed by an extremely promising burst from the first change, Mike Smethurst. He stands 6ft 5in and and wins a higher bounce than most; on this top he first surprised Rob Turner and then bowled Peter Bowler. Glen Chapple followed suit with another near yorker to Keith Parsons and Smethurst, coming back after lunch, delivered the death blow when the ball leapt for Jamie Cox's defiant innings to end at short leg.

The slide was rapid. Good catches at slip and the introduction of Chris Schofield brought the innings to an end an hour after lunch, the sun appearing in time to greet the Lancashire openers with Mike Atherton no doubt happy that Andy Caddick had been ordered to put his feet up.

Mark Chilton, who had uncovered a few shots on Tuesday, was the more aggressive of the pair and his downfall, in the 28th over, was a surprise. Blackwell bowled him first ball, then tempted Sourav Ganguly into a mis-hit drive six runs later, and saw Neil Fairbrother dropped at slip before he had scored.

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