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Stylish Saltires break duck in rainy Manchester


SKEWED logic in rainy Manchester last night enabled the Scottish Saltires to glean their best result of the county season from their most hazardous assignment.

Grounds across England are littered with Caledonian remains but one stands out as an incongruous safe haven. Would it be fanciful for Scottish representative teams to play more games at Old Trafford?

Four years ago an inspired Saltires side conquered Lancashire at their Test-venue HQ and here fate repeated itself on a dismal day. Not that the enraptured visitors cared about the weather as they wrapped up a ten-run Friends Provident Trophy win that knocked Lancashire to the brink of irrelevance in the semi-finals equation.

The Saltires are also out of contention after four opening defeats, but the receipt of their first two points is a belated and inadequate reward for some feisty performances in this campaign. Rarely these days, under a professional microscope, do they look like collaborating amateurs.

The formula for this coup was the same as in 2003, albeit in a match shortened this time to 22 overs a side. Make sure you get a competitive score on the board, bowl and field with consummate deadliness and never panic.

Two wonderful catches in three balls by Glenn Rogers, who didn't get to bat or bowl, summed up the preponderance of heroes on the field.

"A Who's Who of Cricket turned up to play us today, with a world-class bowling attack," said Saltires captain Ryan Watson, who top-scored with 43.

"To score at six or seven runs an over was a great achievement, our bowlers have been good all season and we fielded superbly."

The Saltires had set Lancashire 143 to win and were immediately at their throats. Paul Hoffmann created a few early doubts in batsmen's minds and John Blain's second over was a revelation.

First the former county pro from Penicuik accounted for Mark Chilton, the home captain, lbw. There was a suspicion of an edge on the way to pad and the bowler didn't seem to appeal with conviction, but two balls later he needed no help from the umpire after splaying the stumps of Australia's Brad Hodge.

With Craig Wright tightening the vice at one end, Mal Loye's destructive stint ended when he swished at Ian Moran. That made it 41 for three, and the requirement stood at 100 with 12 overs left.

The game had now become "live" under the Duckworth/Lewis format, and Lancashire were way behind the par score when rain showers returned. Luke Sutton perhaps recognised this when he played across the line at Moran. The Australian had a wicket-maiden and his team were tantalisingly close.

Moran's worst day in cricket had come seven days earlier, when he was smote for 32 in one over and bowled for a golden duck, and this was a classic renaissance.

His good work was followed up by Wright - who removed Dominic Cork and Steven Croft in one over, courtesy of Rogers' phenomenal athleticism in the deep - and Haq, who made fools of the lower-order.

With 27 Muttiah Muralitharan tried to mount an improbable rescue mission and there was a late scare when, with 21 needed off seven balls, Wright dropped a sitter after James Anderson had sliced Majid Haq.

But the brilliant Blain was on target in the last over and, appropriately, bowled Murali off the last ball. Watson's 43 off 41 balls had been the cornerstone of the Saltires' 142 for seven, key contributions from Haq, Colin Smith and Neil McCallum guaranteeing a competitive contest.

Lancashire's star-studded attack was depleted by the England-advised decision to rest Andrew Flintoff and the loss of Glenn Chapple to a hamstring injury, but an international trio kept the Saltires honest and the great Murali battled against the prospect of a fruitless day, ending up with three for 38 from his five overs.

As it turned out, the only surviving match in England yesterday provided the Saltires' indigenous players with just the sort of short-game practice they need in a year when they will go to the Twenty20 World Championships with hardly any experience of the format.

The visitors were greeted by such a dank, drizzly scene on arrival at the north-west HQ that it was ten past three when the old pavilion bell finally tolled for the start of play.

Watson, having lost the toss, opted to open the batting with Haq and the pair had great trouble getting the ball away off Anderson and Cork. But Watson exhaled at the sight of Tom Smith, and helped himself to three leg-side boundaries in a fifth over that propelled the score from 10 to 25.

Haq responded by finding his timing to flash Anderson through point. The introduction of Murali caused a frown or two but after profiting from a lucky edge, the Ferguslie all-rounder stepped back to cut the great spinner for four and bring up the Saltires' 50 off 54 balls.

Haq, typically, perished in his prime (his tally for the season reads 21, 15, 21, 42, 22) when he fell for Sajid Mahmood's slower ball, and the visitors' prospects took a severe blow when George Bailey was dismissed without scoring, beaten by Murali and smartly stumped after stumbling out of his crease.

Watson won an aggressive joust with England's fiery Mahmood. With impeccable timing the skipper guided his opponent over point, once for four and once for six, before enjoying some luck when stepping away. However, his dynamic return to form was ended by the off spin of Hodge, inducing a charge and a fresh-air swing.

Smith and McCallum forged an impressive stand of 42 that was ultimately critical.

In the 19th over McCallum went down on one knee to send Murali into the car park, but when Smith was caught trying to repeat the trick, McCallum made a rare mess of a sweep next ball.

Smith had compiled 24 off 23 balls and McCallum 19 off 14, but fresh faces were at the crease and Anderson and Mahmood forced them to settle for 11 from the last two overs.

The damage had been done, though, and at Chester-le-Street today, Durham will encounter a team that has shaken a monkey off its back.

-- Edited by Rabbie Downunder at 14:41, 2007-05-28


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