Kumble's trump card

Worcestershire 196 and 54-1 Northamptonshire 174-9 dec

WHEN Vikram Solanki carved Anil Kumble for a high, wide catch to extra cover yesterday morning, the bowler showed somewhat more emotion than we associate with this calm purveyor of brisk, teasing legspin. Kumble, in ending Worcestershire's innings, had become the first bowler to take 100 first-class wickets since the Championship assumed its four-day shape in 1993. Waqar Younis and Neil Foster were the last to reach the mark, in 1991, and for Northamptonshire the previous centurion was Kumble's compatriot, Bishen Bedi, in 1973.

Kumble's haul, gained for a scant 20 runs each, confirms him as the trump card in a strong Northamptonshire hand, one in which they retain a fast- dwindling hope of the Championship. They must win here and in Hove while Warwickshire and Middlesex fail. Their title eliminator bout against Middlesex stalled nine days ago on a sleepy Uxbridge wicket, and the weather - which delayed the start of this game until 3.30 on Friday - is forecast foul once more.

After Northamptonshire's daring win against Nottinghamshire two weeks ago this has meant frustration for a buoyant side and for skipper Allan Lamb, who will return next season in a less demanding role.

Batting by 12.30 yesterday, Northamptonshire must have envisaged cracking a fast, vast total so that Kumble could tweak more pressure tomorrow. Worcestershire, bowling for pride and mid-table points, refused to co- operate. The home side stumbled and, with 22 overs of a sunny evening remaining, Lamb declared 22 runs behind. Not for the first time Russell Warren, finishing his season in style, was the most impressive batsman.

What Northamptonshire desperately needed was a crop of evening wickets, but the harvest was disappointing, as the visitors scored readily with one loss.

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