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A Week In Cricket
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Unexpected bonus of a

full summer's experience

MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Shane Lee (Somerset)

Taking on an overseas player is more of a gamble than it ever was with the international calendar occupying more of each passing year. The risk of signing a bowler too jaded to do justice to his contract has always nagged away in the back of a county secretary's mind - but to that is added a doubt that a player will even be available for a full season.

It was a possibility Somerset accepted when they decided to support the recommendation of their coach Bob Cottam that Shane Lee, the 22-year- old Australian all-rounder, be hired as a replacement for Mushtaq Ahmed this summer.

Lee, who broke into Australia's limited-overs side during the winter, always had in mind a place on his country's trip to Sri Lanka in August and, looking further ahead, a return ticket to England next summer for the Ashes tour, his credentials boosted, he hoped, by a season of profitable experience in English conditions.

In the event, he has been overlooked in a 13-man party to visit Sri Lanka, much to the delight of all at Taunton, where the young man from Wollongong, New South Wales has made a favourable impression.

In common with his 27-year-old compatriot, Stuart Law of Essex, Lee found the English schedule exhausting compared with the domestic programme at home, where matches tend to be more intense but separated by long rest periods. "At first I was so tired at the close of play I would just go to bed," he said.

Once he had learned to pace himself, however, it was not long before he began to prosper, although so far his contribution as a batsman has outstripped his achievements with the ball. Having accumulated 679 runs in nine innings, including two centuries and five half-centuries, his first-class batting average stands at an impressive 113, alongside 19 wickets at a cost of 43 runs each.

He has enjoyed playing at Taunton, where his brilliant unbeaten 167 against Worcestershire last month dismissed any notion that he was merely a bowler who batted a bit, and it is to his talents that the West Country side will be looking this week to see off the challenge of neighbouring Gloucestershire in the NatWest Trophy, a competition in which they might be worth a modest wager.

Golden arm (Bowling performance of the week)

Simon Brown (Durham)

If England fail to notice Simon Brown now, one suspects they never will. The prolific left-arm paceman's nine strikes in the current match against Kent raised his tally for the season to 50 first-class wickets - 17 more than the man he must dislodge from the Test team, Alan Mullally. Had Brown played for a decent side, would he still be waiting?

Hit man (Batting performance of the week)

Vince Wells (Leicestershire)

It hardly seems fair to describe the makeshift opener's dismissal for 197 against Essex on Saturday as a failure, but it did cost him his third double-hundred in four knocks, following 200 against Yorkshire and 201 against Berkshire. Still, for a man until recently regarded as no more than a useful all-rounder, two out of three is not bad at all.

Team of the week

1 Philip Weston Worcestershire

2 Vince Wells Leicestershire

3 Jason Gallian ...............Lancashire

4 Matthew Maynard Glamorgan

5 *John Stephenson Hampshire

6 Gary Butcher Glamorgan

7 Phil DeFreitas Derbyshire

8 Michael Burns Warwickshire

9 Simon Brown Durham

10 David Millns Leicestershire

11 Jason Lewry Sussex

Quote of the week

"From what the groundsman tells me, the pitch won't turn this month," the England coach David Lloyd responds to being asked if he was happy to have started the Trent Bridge Test with only one specialist spinner.

Rain check

Hours lost to rain during the County Championship

1 Somerset 53.7

2 Lancashire 50.8

3 Gloucestershire 40.2

4 Sussex 38.3

5 Northamptonshire 37.7

6 Durham 36.2

7 Middlesex 33.6

8 Warwickshire 33.4

9 Derbyshire 30.9

10 Glamorgan 30.5

11 Worcestershire 30.3

12 Essex 28.3

13 Surrey 27.3

14 Hampshire 26

15 Kent 24.8

15 Nottinghamshire 24.8

17 Leicestershire 22.9

18 Yorkshire 16.9

Butter fingers

Scott Ellis (Worcestershire)

Delighted as they were when he claimed the wicket of Lancashire's Steve Titchard, Worcestershire might have been better pleased had the 20-year- old fast bowler demonstrated safer hands when Jason Gallian nicked him a chance in the slips on 37 and sent a steepler in his direction on 60. The youngster spilled both and Gallian went on to make 140.

Tales of the unexpected

David Millns (Leicestershire)

As a broad-backed former Nottinghamshire miner, Millns is a fast bowler hewn from a traditional seam, the type once not expected to know one end of a bat from another. Rival counties now underestimate him at their peril. After a flawless maiden first-class century against Essex, Millns may well have plans to tour the country giving batting clinics.

Trees, tea and bacon

transform bleak house

AROUND THE GROUNDS

No 9: Derby

Settle down on the terraced seats to the eastern side of Derbyshire's curious home ground and you may well feel, uncannily, that you ought really to be watching a thunderous charge of flashy silks and horseflesh pass before your eyes rather than a gentle cricket match.

There is an explanation for this. Until the last war, the cricket square was enclosed within Derby racecourse and much of the furniture still remains, including the main grandstand, topped with a copper-domed cupola, part of the stables and the stewards' box, which used to look up the home straight.

The only thunder heard nowadays - electrical storms apart - emanates from the noisy trunk routes which border the playing area to south and west, neither of which helps the ground defeat its reputation as a somewhat bleak and inhospitable spot.

In fact, since Derbyshire won the NatWest Trophy in 1981 there have been many improvements, including a tidy, modern pavilion, which enabled the players to transfer their kit from the stables, where they used to change, to proper facilities.

On a chill day in mid-April one can still quickly imagine more comforting venues, but each year the tall trees planted around the perimeter acquire a few more leaves and cut out a little more wind, gradually screening out some traffic noise, too. The thawing qualities of the tea and freshly-griddled bacon served from Carol's Cabin deserve noting also.

The cricket itself can be quite stirring as the Derby wicket is usually good for a reasonable contest between bat and ball. It was in the shadow of the racecourse buildings two years ago that Richard Johnson, of Middlesex, became the first bowler for 30 years to take all 10 wickets in a Championship match.

It's in the rules...

Law 26 (1): Byes. Apart from the laws framed to protect him against intimidatory tactics, the batsman has a weapon of his own to discourage a bowler from banging the ball in short, as India's Rahul Dravid demonstrated cleverly during the current Test. He can run a bye.

It is not a ploy he would be wise to use too often. Employed sparingly, however, it carries the element of surprise, as Chris Lewis discovered on Friday. Confronted with a bouncer, Dravid did more than merely sway out of its path - he went scampering off up the pitch.

Happily, his partner was wise to his intentions, more so certainly than Jack Russell. The England wicketkeeper seemed so taken aback when he gathered the ball that he was quite powerless to react as the two Indians completed a single. Lewis, taking it in good sport, returned to his mark wearing a wide grin.

The next delivery, needless to say, was pitched up.

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