Reeve conjures up bizarre finish

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THE fix went in four overs after tea when Trevor Penney completed his century. Dermot Reeve declared when Warwickshire were still 180 runs behind Somerset's first innings of 495. After eight sterile sessions, the captains had decided to go for a result.

The cricket here yesterday was not a pretty sight. Warwickshire began by batting as though this was a timeless test, scoring only 59 in 38 overs before lunch, and soon after Somerset had begun to bat again, Reeve seemed to be offering them easy runs by bowling his No 1 and No 3 batsmen. The fielders were not chasing the ball hard to the boundary, either.

When bad light and rain stopped play 35 minutes early, Somerset were 247 ahead with seven wickets still standing. But you had to look hard to uncover the logic behind a bizarre day's play.

Warwickshire's tactics were, first, to make sure they could not lose and, having done so, to tempt Somerset into accepting a position from which Warwickshire might win. This is the way it finally worked out, but it was not always easy.

English sides tend to collapse when confronted by a dominating first- innings total. Yesterday was typical, with four counties following on, and two losing by an innings before lunch on the third day. Warwickshire coach Phil Neale's message to his batsmen was that they should forget the Somerset the score and pretend they were batting first. They took this advice literally, scoring 20 runs in the first hour. At lunch Warwickshire still needed 190 to avoid the follow-on, but the only wicket to fall was Nick Knight's for 58.

It was stern stuff, and Somerset were helping Warwickshire recover from a mistaken decision to let them bat first by dropping a succession of easy catches, especially off the leg spin of Mushtaq Ahmed, whose rage was so powerful that it came in four shades of black, and whose despair led him to leave the field for a while, presumably to recover from injuries to his pride.

When Warwickshire did finally increase the run rate, it was at the expense of Somerset's spinners. Poor Mushtaq ended with figures of one for 89. Warwickshire's safety net had been put in place by Wasim Khan, a 24-year- old from Birmingham. He has batted five times in his first season in the first team and on each occasion has made his highest score in first-class cricket. He rode his luck (dropped three times) and struck 13 fours and a six in five hours.

Khan added 96 with Knight and 99 with Trevor Penney, who then put on 79 with Dermot Reeve. Penney's century suggested that the wicket was not as difficult as the earlier batsmen had made it look; his hundred came in 190 balls before Reeve's opportunistic declaration.

The first 10 overs of Somerset's innings looked like proper cricket. Mark Lathwell swiped at Douglas Brown and was out without scoring. Marcus Trescothick, having driven a huge six, pulled clumsily at the next ball and was out for eight. When Keith Parsons was caught off bat and pad for five, Somerset were 19 for three and the game was departing from the script.

The next 12 overs were gentle and short-pitched from Andy Moles and Mohin. The threat to Somerset's second innings had been lifted. Presumably Warwickshire will be set 350 for victory tomorrow, but whoever does win will be left with a fairly sour taste in the mouth - like today's spectators.