Grace Road for the home stretch

THE WEEK AHEAD
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The Independent Online
With no outstanding team in this summer's Britannic Assurance Championship, Leicestershire have made - and collected - multiple points in the case for the one-time also-rans. Joint leaders with Surrey, they have a shining benefit in the eight-week finale to the season.

Home advantage at Grace Road has been something of a misnomer over the years, but four of their remaining seven matches are there, including the game starting tomorrow against next-to-bottom Northamptonshire. Leicestershire know their own pitches, which this summer have yielded absorbing cricket together with innings wins over Worcestershire and Essex, a victory over Sussex last Monday and a draw with Kent.

Six of their remaining matches are against counties in the lower half of the table, fuelling the thought that James Whitaker will lead Leicestershire to the title in his first season since succeeding the newly retired Nigel Briers, who is taking an appointment as the master in charge of cricket at Marlborough College in September.

Surrey, the only team to beat Leicestershire this summer, meet South Africa A at The Oval tomorrow, delighted with their rise to the top. When falling to Yorkshire at Middlesbrough in early June, Surrey were 13th, having lost all their first five championship tosses.

August remains "out-ground" time, with Worksop and Eastbourne on this week's schedule. Not many visiting players, least of all Glamorgan's, would expect to play at Worksop several times in their career, except maybe those from Yorkshire, who used to make an almost annual appearance. Worksop means "Weorc's Valley", which is perhaps why the Welshmen and Hugh Morris feel so at home.

This is Glamorgan's third appearance at Central Avenue this decade, with Morris fondly recalling scoring a hundred in each innings there in 1990. That match produced three other Glamorgan century makers, Matthew Maynard, Viv Richards and Alan Butcher, whose son Gary has less fond memories of the game at Worksop in 1994.

During a rain break, Butcher Jnr, apparently on his way to a fish and chip shop, attempted to jump over a small wall skirting the boundary, slipped and broke an ankle. Worksop used to be the habitat of Fred Trueman, who enjoyed hitting Nottinghamshire bowlers into the adjacent canal, and of Geoff Boycott, whose career average there, laced with Yorkshire relish, was in three figures.

Yorkshire, out of the top two for the first time this season, go to Eastbourne knowing that their own "out grounds", with the exception of Scarborough, are now consigned to history. Park Avenue, Bradford (first match 1881); Harrogate (1894); Middlesborough (1956); and Abbeydale Park, Sheffield (1974), have all disappeared at the stroke of the county committee's pen.

At least Lancashire were not so ruthless when four-day cricket enforced fewer fixtures. Southport, Liverpool, Blackpool and Lytham host matches on a two- or three-year rota, illustrating that Red Rose traditions are not so easily cast aside. Kent still manage to grant fixtures to Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells. Today they meet Worcestershire at Canterbury and fifth-placed Essex go to Lord's.

Durham, who managed a draw last year with the West Indies, the inaugural touring team to appear at Chester-le-Street's Riverside ground, meet Pakistan there on Saturday. They will be followed by South Africa A on 15 August, when a stadium of Test potential stages its first major representative match, involving the TCCB XI.

Michael Austin

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