Strife bubbles under surface

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The Independent Online

The Pakistan fast-bowling sensation Shoaib Akhtar has not even arrived at Trent Bridge yet to instil early-season panic among county batsmen, but Nottinghamshire may already be facing punishment for the state of their pitches.

The England and Wales Cricket Board promised radical action after repeated complaints about the quality of the surfaces in the Championship. They have appointed a squad of pitch liaison officers empow-ered to monitor the preparation and performance of wickets, instead of only turning up after the damage has been done.

Ironically, Nottinghamshire received a visit from one of the inspectors, Raman Subba Row, but the first two days of their encounter with Northamptonshire were washed out by rain.

When play finally got under-way at the Test-match ground on Friday, 19 wickets fell in the day and Subba Row was sent back. The county face a 10-point penalty if the pitch is deemed poor. Northamptonshire were dismissed for 153, whereupon the hosts slumped to 79 for 9.

Nottinghamshire already have a 10-point suspended sentence hanging over them for a "poor" pitch last season, and Subba Row said if they were found guilty again, it would be included in the judgement.

There was no play at Trent Bridge yesterday, nor in the other Second Division games, between Gloucestershire and Sussex at Bristol, and Worcestershire and Glamorgan at Worcester. The Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath, another superstar testing the waters in county cricket, did not take the field on his Champion-ship debut for Worcestershire.

Groundsman Roy McLaren said New Road was probably in its worst state in his 18 years there, quite a feat for a ground perennially left under a few feet of water by the River Severn.

The First Division clash between Kent and Lancashire at Canterbury was also called off without any further progress.

England's one-day spinner, slow left-armer Ashley Giles, will visit a specialist next week after suffering a back spasm in Warwickshire's match against Oxford Universities. He suffered a back injury last winter on England's tour of southern Africa and missed all the one-day internationals except for a rained-off game in Zimbabwe.