Lancashire's dream team

B & H Cup final: Aggressive Austin provides the drive for second successive triumph as Northamptonshire fall short
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The Independent Online
Lancashire's domination of the Benson and Hedges Cup continued yesterday when a performance that owed more to teamwork than individualism proved too effective for a Northamptonshire side who competed well but were never able to take a grip on proceedings.

The 25th final in this competition thus saw the trophy taken back to Old Trafford for the second year running and the fourth time in all, putting Lancashire one ahead of Kent and Leicestershire on the B & H roll of honour and confirming them as modern-day masters of the limited-overs format.

Although Lancashire's total of 245 looked by no means beyond Northamptonshire's reach, two early strikes by Ian Austin reduced them to 10 for two, and for all the subsequent efforts of Rob Bailey, Richard Montgomerie, Kevin Curran and Tim Walton, they were always up against it. The result was a formality long before Northamptonshire's final wicket fell with the target still 32 runs away.

With two further wickets to give him figures of four for 29 off 9.3 overs, the aggressive Austin was made man of the match, an award that will have gone down well in the bowling fraternity, which tends to feel, quite rightly, that there is a bias towards batsmen in these matters.

Neil Fairbrother, who top-scored for Lancashire with 63, must also have been a contender, but it was essentially a joint effort that set his team on the road to victory, in which Mike Atherton (48), John Crawley (34) and Graham Lloyd (26) all made important contributions. In the closing overs there was a lusty 14 by Austin which no doubt the adjudicators were also mindful of when they settled on the Gold Award's recipient.

For one Lancashire player, it was not such a happy day. Steve Elworthy, their overseas professional from South Africa, found himself left out of the side. But, in the light of subsequent events, who could argue with that decision? When these teams met in the second round of the NatWest Trophy at Old Trafford on Wednesday, the narrowness of Lancashire's victory - one wicket - meant Northamptonshire still went into the match full of confidence. But on a day when the fielding generally was surprisingly ragged, theirs was perhaps worse than Lancashire's, while their bowlers were never quite able to press home the advantage when the breakthroughs came. That Curtly Ambrose suffered a hamstring injury after his first five overs did not help.

Bearing in mind that Ambrose would be steaming in against them, Mike Watkinson's decision to use himself as an opener alongside Mike Atherton looked somewhat dubious, and within seven overs he was gone. Paul Taylor, the Northamptonshire left-arm seamer, had been all over the place to begin with, bowling wides with each of his first two balls, another with his fourth, and then a no-ball. When Watkinson attempted to pull him backward of square he only succeeded in getting a top-edge, to John Emburey.

Jason Gallian batted sensibly before gambling on a run to mid-off and getting himself narrowly run out by Tony Penberthy's direct hit. With John Crawley's arrival at the crease, batting suddenly looked much easier. Timing the ball wonderfully from the outset, he was the dominant partner in a stand of 53 for the third wicket which marked the best phase of the Lancashire innings.

At the halfway stage Lancashire were a handy 102 for two, but in the 26th over, Crawley threw his wicket away when he glanced Penberthy into Russell Warren's gloves.

The batting side's momentum had once more been checked just when it had got going. Northamptonshire sought to capitalise on the situation by introducing Emburey. But after Atherton pulled Emburey to midwicket, Fairbrother and Lloyd got things moving again in a stand of 49. After the late surge, an asking rate of 4.92 runs per over looked within reach.

Austin quickly changed that, however, having Capel caught behind and bowling Alan Fordham with a ball which the batsman was unlucky to drag on. Bailey and Montgomerie then added 87 for the third wicket, and although both went in quick succession to reduce North- amptonshire to 111 for four, Curran and Walton, the hero of Northamptonshire's semi-final win over Warwickshire, put them back on course . Once they had gone the only hope was that Emburey, back on his "home" ground, could do something remarkable. There was a typical swipe for four, but next ball he was bowled and that was that.

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