Reeve resists it all

Cricket: Warwickshire 164 Leicestershire 289-6
Phil Simmons marked the tentative arrival of summer in the Midlands yesterday with an often-sunny display of batting. He confirmed that Leicestershire are in good heart and that all-conquering Warwickshire have problems to solve if the remarkable achievements of the last three seasons are not to be placed in the past tense. Last week Hampshire caused only their third home Championship defeat in that time, and yesterday they seemed short of ideas.

Even with the help of the Brumbrella, the first two days of this important fixture between the early-season Championship leaders and the title-holders could offer only 55 overs of murky activity. Visiting skipper James Whitaker, eyeing a greenish track under sullen cloud, asked Warwickshire to bat and saw them stumble towards 138 for six by Friday night. Captaincy gambles, a steady rattle of wickets or dominant batting were needed to refresh the contest.

Dermott Reeve might well have considered thumping down the gauntlet by declaring overnight, but if so he resisted. On a bright morning, with a multi-cultural cocktail of music billowing in on the breeze from the adjacent Lord Mayor's Festival, his side could add only 26 uncertain runs against Alan Mullally's very brisk left arm and the reliable seam trundling of Gordon Parsons. The rewards were Mullally's, burnishing his figures as he swept up the tail. Four wickets crumpled in six overs, with Mullally taking three for 8 in 19 balls, and Warwickshire had gained little.

With Nigel Briers nursing a knee injury that could threaten his entire 25th season, Tim Boon no longer around, Gregor MacMillan out of favour and Iain Sutcliffe studying at Oxford, the Leicester top order has a makeshift look about it. Yesterday Vinnie Wells and Darren Maddy were auditioned for opening positions, but neither player could grasp the opportunity. Maddy, who batted longer, had two reprieves, one a top-edged skied shot straight into the sun that had Dougie Brown making white-stick excuses long before he spilled it. At this point in the eighth over of the innings, Maddy had yet to score. The unlucky bowler was the veteran Gladstone Small, restored to health and wheeling in as crisply as ever, though the news of injured Tim Munton is gloomy - maybe another month out.

With Wells and Maddy gone, Ben Smith was motoring steadily and an early- afternoon crowd increased as the weather held. Simmons swaggered to the crease and by the time Smith mis-hooked Small to wicketkeeper Keith Piper, their scores were almost on parity. Simmons mixed quick-eyed improvisations with booming drives and hooks - one huge extra-cover six clattered the seats below the scoreboard - and with the in-form Whitaker, two Championships centuries already to his name this season, at the other end, Leicester seemed to be pressing home their advantage.

But the medium pace of Graeme Welch kept clipping away wickets, and having scored nine fours and a six in his first 50, Simmons was now being contained, feeling his way, rather than bludgeoning, towards a deserved century. Leicester were clearly right to bat on, hoping that tomorrow afternoon they can cut down the champions once again, but a big match like this deserves four sunny days.

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