Aymes a keeper whose aim is true

Cricket Diary
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It has been some week for unsung wicketkeepers. All of this singular breed of men are now expected to bat like Bradman and the wonder is that so many of them have refused to disappoint.

Richard Blakey pulled Yorkshire from a perilous position in their Benson & Hedges Cup semi-final tie at Old Trafford last week only to be trumped by Warren Hegg's thrilling, unforgettable innings with Lancashire in similarly desperate circumstances. It doesn't get much better than that, although Adrian Aymes might just have managed.

Perhaps it was not quite so exciting but for a few hours last weekend Aymes took his first-class batting average for the summer to above 100. True, he was helped by having been unbeaten so frequently but he has also made crucial, match-winning and saving runs.

At the close of the third day's play against Derbyshire the Hampshire wicketkeeper had scored 421 Championship runs this season at an average of 101.25. His scores at that point were 113, 4 (run out), 28, 22no. 48no, 21, 100no and 55no. Unfortunately, just as you start to think cricket is an easy game it tends to hit back and Aymes duly secured his first duck of the season in the second innings on Monday. Hampshire lost.

"I didn't know about going so far in the averages but some of the lads were quick to tell me," he said. "You know that sort of thing isn't going to last. Yeah, it was nice while it did." Aymes is one of only four of the present crop of county wicketkeepers to average about 30 with the bat, just ahead of Jack Russell in fifth place. The combination of the two skills, keeping and batting, and the balance between them is the difficult part.

Aymes is not taking much of the credit for his astonishing batting returns. "You can't score runs if there's nobody at the other end. People have stayed in and I've been given time to build scores." Aymes has always been a difficult man to get out. Batting at No 7 or 8 in the Hampshire order he has been unbeaten in more than a quarter of his first-class innings since his debut in 1987. He was opening batsman in club cricket and played in the village knock-out final at Lord's for Hursley Park at 19. His half-century did not prevent a defeat.

The Aymes batting this summer should not deflect from his wicketkeeping exhibitions. Unheralded like most of them and unheard unlike most of them, he still has the virtue of standing up to seam bowlers.

"That's the job," he said. "It's not just to get stumpings but to get batsmen back so bowlers can bowl a different length." At six feet tall Aymes is one of the increasing number of longer, more slender keepers (he has a gym beneath his house and is probably one of the fittest men on the cricketing circuit). "I think being taller helps with reach when you're standing back but it is so important to be fit as well so you can get down."

THE well-intentioned campaigns to secure more Test matches for Sri Lanka in England are destined to fail. Pressure has been put on the Test and County Cricket Board from several quarters including newspapers and a group of MPs. But as Tim Lamb, the heir apparent to the top job at the board, explained, what has been done cannot be undone. There will be five Tests in 1998 against South Africa as already agreed and one against Sri Lanka tagged on the end.

Lamb said that the board had to balance its wider responsibility to the game at large with the needs first to raise revenue and second to provide matches that the public want to watch. There had been no evidence that Sri Lanka in Test matches were a significant drawing card. This was of course before they were world champions but the board seems prepared to act on that. No Test matches perhaps but officials will talk to their Sri Lankan counterparts at the ICC meeting this summer about the possibility of arranging some one-day contests after the Test in 1998.

"There are some days available for cricket at the end of that summer but to have a second Test match would make it seven in the season and we think that would be too many," Lamb said. It is the limited overs stuff that Sri Lanka shine at so brightly. The board and the rest of us may end up wishing they had been given a test.

IT transpires that two Sri Lankans willtaste Test cricket in England this summer: both their members on the international panel of umpires, KT Francis and BC Cooray, will stand in the series against Pakistan.

Perhaps the England players would like to be reminded that there is an extra pounds 2,500 on offer in the Test match at Lord's this week. The reward, courtesy of Cricket Lore Magazine, awaits the batsman who strikes a ball over the pavilion. This is a mighty hit which in recent years Kim Hughes, Wasim Akram and Kapil Dev have come close to making. Still, the only recorded example of the feat is by Albert Trot in 1899 playing for the MCC against the Australians. It may not be England who do it. The sight of Sachin Tendulkar in full flow would make a repeat possible.

One-man stand

TIM WALTON has yet to establish himself in the Northamptonshire side and when he came out to bat in the Benson & Hedges Cup semi-final against Warwickshire they were in dire trouble. After scoring a serene 70 in 73 balls and enacting two smart run-outs, Walton, 23, said: "It was the sort of thing you dream about doing in front of a big crowd and wondering if it will ever happen. My best two days in cricket." Walton was rewarded by being left out of the side at Chelmsford on Thursday and is now dreaming about the final.

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