Kumble looming large in title race

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The Independent Online
Northamptonshire 321 Gloucestershire 22-3

Another high quality Alan Fordham innings, of 82 from 170 balls, was the hors-d'oeuvre for this top of the table match. The fourth course, now usually becoming the third in these reduced-menu games, ending on Saturdays, will probably be ''the Kumble crumble''.

Anil Kumble, the leg-spinner, had taken 32 wickets in the previous three matches asNorthamptonshire regained the leadership of the Championship they have still yet to lift after being four times runners-up from 1912 onwards.

His dismissal of Matthew Windows and Kamran Sheeraz in two balls as the shadows lengthened merely emphasised his threat, though Richard Williams, surrounded by eight close catchers, prevented a hat-trick. Gloucestershire lost a third wicket in seven balls when Paul Taylor ousted Tony Wright.

Third-placed after being leaders for seven uninterrupted weeks in May and June, they have three of their final five matches, including this, at Wantage Road. This game is being contested only one pitch away from the extreme scoreboard side of the square and looks ripe for wear and tear, with winning the toss meaning much for Northamptonshire.

Their batsmen got in and still, when the promise of higher achievement beckoned, they got out, notably Fordham, caught at slip after showing the dedication which would have served England well at the minimum of A team level, had anyone promoted his worthy case for selection.

Fordham was fifth out at 178 but Northamptonshire bat low, not as impressively as, say Lancashire, but with David Capel at six making a half-century and Jeremy Snape, two notches lower, approaching one, they have the batting wherewithal to challenge the best.

This was an attritional day, though with its subtleties. The predatory Vyvian Pike, lurking in the deep at backward square leg, swallowing Capel, who had lifted Sheeraz for a six in the same direction two balls earlier.

Capel's half-century from 86 balls had sustained the innings and a last wicket partnership of 40 between Kumble and John Hughes brought a third batting point. Gloucestershire had two nightwatchmen in their stressful evening and when Tim Hancock, an established batsman, waved aside a potential single sought by Williams, he was a possible case of Hancock's half-minute, such was Kumble's severe threat.