Club 19-44 enters holiday market

Cricket Diary
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The Independent Online
English cricket's senior player, the Father of the Championship as it were, is 44 going on 45. He is John Childs, of Essex, who is a quarter of a century older than the youngest to have played in the competition this summer. The latter honour thus far is narrowly shaded by Alex Morris of Yorkshire, one of four 19-year-olds already selected.

Hopes of getting a thousand teenagers in May may be doomed never to come to fruition but those who criticise the counties for fielding too many ageing players must agree that it is better to have four under 20 and two over 40 than the other way round. The other veteran is, of course, the batsman/selector, Graham Gooch, also of Essex, the others of 19 are Matthew Rawnsley, the Worcestershire spin bowler, David Goodchild, the Middlesex batsman, and Paul Collingwood, the Durham all-rounder who last week became a veteran of 20.

While Childs and Morris represent the extreme ends of the spectrum (and Morris may be superseded later in the summer when the schools break up), they also epitomise it. County cricket's performers have been roundly castigated of late but surely there can be no other professional game which so encourages youth while still finding time for the old warhorse, an arrangement which may be part of its enduring charm.

Each age from 19 to 38 is represented among more than 240 players - it takes 198 to field 18 teams - who have appeared in the Championship alone this summer. There have been 27 26-year-olds and 21 of both 27-year-olds and 24-year-olds.

Some criticism might be forthcoming from the youth cultists because of the 18 players who have reached their 32nd birthdays. Presumably, however, they are giving the benefit of their experience and perhaps the experience of their benefit to the 17 players who are 22 and the same number who are 25.

There have been 84 players of 30 and above and 86 of 25 and below. The number above 35 is merely 23 and as they include men like Mike Gatting, Tim Robinson, Bill Athey and Dean Jones it may be difficult to mount a viable argument against them.

The counties do not appear to divide on common lines, though this may be more to do with players reaching a peak together than any particular emphasis on youth or age. Surrey, with 12 players under 30, and Durham with 11 under 30 and five under 25 appear to have placed most faith in inexperience.

Yorkshire too are giving youth its fling. Ten of the 13 players they have used so far have been under 30, five under 25. Hampshire and Northants have not been quite so adventurous. Seven players from each of those sides have been over 30, two over 35.

Unless it is seriously suggested that everybody should retire from first- class cricket at 30, the balance is not as bad as some observers might have suspected. Though maybe you should still feel sorry for the 16, 17 and 18-year-olds who have not yet broken through.

IT WAS somehow reassuring to hear that Gregoire Godin, a Frenchman who happens to be teaching at an English prep school, had been awarded an NCA coaching certificate. The game, you see, can be taught to those not brought up on it.

Indeed, Bob Carter, the NCA national coach, reeled off a host of places where the game is being taught by approved instructors. Holland and Denmark seem positively replete with the creatures and Greg Gomez, son of former West Indian Test player, Gerry, gives lessons in the game in Malaga, which may or not be good news for British holidaymakers.

"I know coaching in this country has been getting a bad press lately, but there are plenty of good coaches out there," said Carter. "We do need more of quality but just because you can play doesn't mean you can pass on those skills." It works the other way round to as M Godin is busy demonstrating.

IN AN attempt to enliven a dull game ruined by the weather, the Kent captain, Steve Marsh, gave all his players (including himself as wicketkeeper) a bowl at Canterbury last Monday against Yorkshire. The last time Kent did this was in 1884 when the captain was not Steve Marsh but Lord Harris. On that occasion, the wicketkeeper John Pentecost took the only wicket of his career. Marsh failed to add his career tally of two wickets in five overs last week.

GONE may be the days of hearing your selection for England by one of the following second-hand methods: a telephone call from the chairman, going along in the car with the radio on, tuning to Telextext, hearing from a team-mate. Certain players were last week sounded out about what sort of music they might like in the dressing-room to put them in the right frame of mind for playing. If the requested tape cannot be unearthed, of course, it could mean a Test career on hold.

One-man stand

Don Topley, the former Essex bowler, left county cricket after the 1994 season. Toppers resurfacedin a Sunday tabloid with allegations of match-fixing in a Sunday League game between Essex and Lancashire. It came to nothing but he hardly endeared himself to former mates. Now he is back with BBC Radio in the North-east. Topley's first commentary will be on the NatWest Trophy second-round game between - if they win in the first round - Durham and Essex.

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