Lord's called over negative bowling

RACE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP: Leicestershire consolidate their position as Kent fall by wayside and Surrey lose time in rain: Middlesex 190; Leics 381-8
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There are many ways to finish off a prey at this time of year and Leicestershire, perhaps mellowed by some watery sunshine over Grace Road, seemed content to slowly throttle theirs, devoting most of the day to occupying the crease.

Only Phil Simmons managed to cut loose with some blistering strokeplay in his unbeaten 95, before bad light intervened an hour before the close. By then Leicestershire had reached a lead of 191 that is surely enough to guarantee them the draw they need to clinch the title.

It was by no means an elegant innings, but then Simmons has never been a dainty artist. He was off the mark with a top-edged hook for six off Angus Fraser, hitting two more in his 120-ball stay. With the Championship at stake aesthetics sometimes have to be sacrificed in favour of consolidating a winning position, particularly when your opponent's left-arm spinner persistently bowls into the rough outside the batsman's leg stump.

Apart from the fact that Kent have now fallen from the Championship race - a point reached when Leicestershire secured their second batting point at 250 - this odiously negative tactic provided the major talking point of the day, as Phil Tufnell sent down all but seven of his 26 overs from over the wicket.

Moreover, the umpires had to seek clarification from Lord's, following an inquiry by Simmons as to whether the Middlesex wicketkeeper Keith Brown - who had positioned himself two feet outside leg stump to take the ball - constituted a third fielder behind square on the leg side. That is something that has been illegal in the game since the early 1960's.

The answer came some 40 minutes later, once Tim Lamb, the chief executive elect of the Test and County Cricket Board, had consulted umpire Nigel Plews. Mike Gatting had spent the morning substituting for Brown and Tufnell had shrewdly waited until Brown's return after lunch before bowling.

"Having spoken to umpire Plews," said Lamb, who sent his message via the Leicestershire coach, Jack Birkenshaw, "we are of the same opinion that the wicketkeeper is not a fielder so long as his first position is to intercept the ball should the batsman miss it."

He then added, presumably keen to aim a critical barb at this negative scourge sweeping the modern game. "Both the TCCB and the ICC [International Cricket Council] feel that bowling into the rough outside the batsman's leg-stump needs to be addressed. As it stands it is perfectly legitimate. But it is not an edifying part of the game."

It is difficult not to disagree, although finger spinners everywhere, will bemoan the lack of assistance given to them by the unyielding nature of the surfaces they tend to play upon. An easy solution, might be to limit the amount of fielders behind square to one, but only when the bowler adopts an over-the-wicket attack.

Certainly Middlesex used the tactic to try and frustrate the home side, after two early lbws had been negated by a 138-run partnership between James Whitaker, and Aftab Habib.

Whitaker, whose stolid 89 was the building block for Simmons' fusillade, ended as Tufnell's sole victim, treading on his stumps as he tried to sweep the ball from behind his legs.