Cricket: A cynical farewell to tradition

Gloucs 350-6 dec and 173-5 Kent 483 Match drawn
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The Independent Online
AS EVER, the heart lifted a mile on passing through the portals of the St Lawrence ground. There was no more sublime place to watch the going down of the old Championship, no setting more redolent of either the competition's ambience or its heritage.

The ground was, naturally, a picture. The memorials to the long-ago bowling heroes Fuller Pilch and Charlie Blythe were there on the left of the entrance. One of them adorned the middle part of the 19th Century, the other span a beautiful left-arm web through the early years of the 20th until he was killed at Ypres. They seemed more pertinent reminders than ever that the sporting world they illuminated and helped to shape is about to change irrevocably.

The ancient lime tree was outside the boundary rope for once. It will be the subject of another life-prolonging operation from its regular surgeon this winter, but its replacement is already being grown and will be rooted to the same spot.

There was a healthy, if not capacity, attendance, as there invariably is in Kent. Nothing of real meaning to play for, it seemed, unless Kent could conjure an improbable win and leap up to third. But it was also a parting of the ways: next year Kent will be in the first division, Gloucestershire in the second. They were both original members of the Championship in 1890. Four of those eight will be in the first tier, four will not. Old rivalries terminated.

It was impossible to wallow in nostalgia for long. The events at Derby saw to that. There, Hampshire won a thrilling match by two runs to ensure that they have first division status to offer their new signing, Shane Warne. But it was a victory tainted by collusion. Hampshire's victory consigned Warwickshire, the team of the Nineties, tothe second division.

John Carr, director of cricket operations with the England and Wales Cricket Board, had a word with the match umpires on Friday evening and was planning to speak to the captains at the end yesterday. It is possible that the issue could be taken further, but collusion is not covered in the regulations so a docking of points is unlikely. "We can't be sure there was collusion," said an ECB spokesman. Told that since Karl Krikken, the Derbyshire wicketkeeper had bowled, which seemed to make the case bang to rights, he said: "For all I know, Krikken may be a very good bowler." Perhaps Warwickshire will recruit him to take advantage of the Edgbaston greentops.

Nothing so unsavoury, of course, was at hand at the St Lawrence ground. Kent batted on to achieve maximum points. Matthew Fleming, their captain, deserved his second century of the season. He was caught behind for 99, scored from 161 balls, one of Jack Russell's five catches. Min Patel made a career-best 67 with great gusto against some inglorious bowling, though just as we were beginning to congratulate ourselves on a day's cricket that was unspoiled he then opened Kent's bowling. It was a ploy to increase their over-rate and reduce their fine from pounds 6,000 to pounds 4,000.

It was not quite jiggery- pokery on the Derby scale (as it happened, they severely embarrassed Gloucestershire, who were already destined for bottom place in the last of all tables, though Matthew Windows spared the prospect of deeper blushes with his second century of the season, scored in a rush from 139 balls), but you could sense Blythe and Pilch looking down and shaking their heads.