Nicholas makes a mark

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The Independent Online
Hampshire 428 and 344-5dec

Worcestershire 289 and 41-0

CENTURIES from Paul Whitaker and Mark Nicholas consolidated Hampshire's dominance in this match between two teams who started the Championship poorly but have both put together impressive recent winning sequences. The Hampshire batsmen fashioned a fine third- wicket partnership of 199 and Nicholas was unbeaten on 138 when he declared to set Worcestershire a target of 484 to win.

On Friday Worcestershire narrowly avoided the follow-on, but as only one of Hampshire's matches has made it into the fourth day this season, the morning's orders from the dressing room were clearly to protect wickets and grind Worcestershire out of the game. This they achieved in an overcast and breezy morning session, despite losing both openers.

Sean Morris fell to a sharp chance at slip off the pacey Paul Thomas while Paul Terry was trapped lbw by Stuart Lampitt. It was a long while before Worcestershire achieved another success as Whitaker and Nicholas persistently and persuasively upped the tempo and took a stranglehold on the game.

Whitaker has an up-periscope stance which makes Graham Gooch look conventional and an array of tics, switches and mannerisms to rival Derek Randall. But it is a method which works, and he took full advantage of the absence of Robin Smith, on Test duty, to stake his claim for a regular place in the team.

The Yorkshire-born Whitaker arrived at Hampshire from Derbyshire last year and scored 94 on his first class debut. On Saturday he went one better with a century in 158 balls which included 14 fours. He has a fine array of shots which include a cannonball straight drive, a deft sweep and an aggressive short-arm pull. He has a willingness to hit the ball in the air but had given no chances before he eventually fell for 119, caught and bowled by the debutant off-spinner, Vikram Solanki.

Nicholas matched Whitaker for aggression after a circumspect start when he rarely got the ball off the square. But once he got the timing of his square cut right the runs began to flow more freely.

He was putting the bowling to the sword by the time of his century, which came off 176 balls and included 14 fours and a massive straight six off the hapless Solanki. By the close Worcestershire were 41 without loss, but they face a long day's batting tomorrow.

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