Cricket: A week in cricket

Extra Cover: Bad boy finally comes good: MAN IN THE MIDDLE; Philip DeFreitas (Derbyshire)

Once upon a time, the suggestion that Philip DeFreitas might wind up as a county captain would have invited laughter. As a young man with Leicestershire, while recognised for his outstanding talent, he was known also as the dressing-room's "enfant terrible".

He fell out badly with Peter Willey, an old-school captain who perceived in DeFreitas an upstart with ideas above his station after his debut tour with England in 1986-87, when he had the misfortune to be dubbed the "new Botham." Then there was the business with Jonathan Agnew, who threw his kit over the players' balcony after a dining-room prank went wrong.

In time, "Daffy" fled to Lancashire. Sadly, the move was not to his long- term benefit. Old Trafford's pitches did not suit his bowling, his form and confidence suffered and his volatile temperament surfaced again, especially when he lost his England place. Off he went again, his critics suspecting that he would always believe in the grass being greener elsewhere. In fact, it was true.

On Derbyshire's seamer-friendly surfaces, DeFreitas rediscovered his youth, as a bowler at least. In other respects, he grew up. Now 31, he has enough experience to be reckoned the man most suitable to lead Derbyshire in their present crisis, although he does not see his elevation to the captaincy in place of Dean Jones as a personal change of direction.

"My first job is still to bowl and I don't see that being captain will affect that," he said. Nor does he regard himself as a back number on the international stage, though England, having picked him for the Texaco Trophy series, appear to have ditched him again.

"I've got a bit of a dilemma there," he said, "because I know if I'm to get back in we'll have to start doing badly..."

THE TOP TEN

The best 10 bowling analyses in England v Australia Test matches

1 Jim Laker (Eng) 10-53

Manchester 1956

2 Jim Laker (Eng) 9-37

Manchester 1956

3 Frank Laver (Aus) 8-31

Manchester 1909

4 George Lohmann (Eng) 8-35

Sydney 1886-87

5 Glenn McGrath (Aus) 8-38

Lord's 1997

6 Albert Trott (Aus) 8-43

Adelaide 1894-95

7 Hedley Verity (Eng) 8-43

Lord's 1934

8 Bob Willis (Eng) 8-43

Leeds 1981

9 Bob Massie (Aus) 8-53

Lord's 1972

10 George Lohmann (Eng) 8-58

Sydney 1891-92

Australia's second best

The figures of Glenn McGrath (right) at Lord's on Saturday have been bettered only once by an Australian in Ashes Tests. Frank Laver, whom the history books recall as an ungainly batsman but skilled medium pace bowler, combined excellent length with deceptive flight. His analysis at Old Trafford in 1909 came as England were dismissed for 119, but the match ended in a draw. Jim Laker took 79 wickets in 15 Tests against Australia and he and Tony Lock effectively won the 1956 series on their own.

TERMS OF THE GAME

Sledging

Not surprisingly, the term appears to have been coined in Australia, where mouthy close fielders set out to apply a verbal "sledgehammer" to a batsman's concentration. Although most players accept the practice as part of the game, it actually contravenes Law 42 (Unfair Play), section six of which deems that an umpire can signal dead ball if "any player of the fielding side incommodes the striker by any noise or action while he is receiving a ball."

Festival week gives big hitters plenty of room to make a splash

AROUND THE GROUNDS

Southchurch Park, Southend

Essex's only seaside venue since 1977, Southchurch Park, barely half a mile from the seafront, gained notoriety in 1989 when a wicket prepared by Southend borough council for the Championship match against Yorkshire was deemed unfit for first-class cricket. Essex became the first county to be docked 25 points, which ultimately cost them the title.

The county took over maintenance of the square the following day, since when there have been few problems. Indeed, during the last couple of summers, batsmen have prospered. The playing area is so large that there are actually three squares, although only two remain in use. The central one is kept exclusively for the county's use.

Peter Edwards, Essex's secretary and a Southend man himself, recalls playing when three matches were taking place simultaneously. "It could get a bit crowded," he said. "The cover fielder in one game might find himself running past midwicket from the adjoining one. But there's plenty of room for two matches."

The ground has two pavilions, one belonging to Southend Hockey Club. There is plenty of space for tents and marquees, which accommodate most of the facilities during Festival Week. A boating lake beyond the boundary is outside the range of all but the biggest hitters. No one, so far as is known, has matched the feat of the Australian tourist Jim de Courcy, who found the water three times in one over from the Essex spinner Bill Greensmith in 1953.

Festival Week is now something of a misnomer, amounting only to one four- day game and a 40-over Sunday League match. Derbyshire provide this year's opposition, starting on Thursday.

THE WEEK

AHEAD

The first round of the NatWest Trophy tomorrow, is hardly in the F A Cup's league when it comes to giant-killing. So routinely do the professional counties see off their part-time opponents that the odds are stacked against any of the 11 Minor Counties - or Scotland, Ireland or the Netherlands - taking part in the second round on 9 July.

However, upsets do happen occasionally. In the 1980s, Shropshire, Durham, Buckinghamshire and Cheshire all defeated first-class rivals, Cheshire's victory over Northamptonshire in 1988 being the last instance.

If any of the so-called minnows should have a chance it is Scotland, who face Gloucestershire at Bristol. Having qualified for the World Cup, some sort of logic suggests they ought to be capable of at least some progress in this competition, although history is against them. Their 14 NatWest ties so far have produced 14 defeats.

Devon, the Minor Counties champions, take on Leicestershire at Exmouth. But don't expect headline news there either. Devon have won their championship three times in a row, but their last three NatWest ties have seen them beaten by Essex (119 runs), Sussex (seven wickets) and Yorkshire (four wickets).

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