Derbyshire win by 6 runs
THERE were several hundred cricket matches played in England over the weekend, mostly in which the only sighting of a helmet was when the opening bowler arrived on his moped, players who nicked the ball to the wicketkeeper took off voluntarily to the pavilion rather than be persuaded by a volley of abuse from the opposition, and the only hint of meal-time acrimony revolved around who had pinched the last cucumber sandwich.
However, there are matches such as these, played at places like Pudsey and Peatling Parva, where rotund bank managers share the same changing-room as spotty schoolboys, and involve neither trophies nor money, and matches such as the Benson and Hedges Cup final, which, rattling good game though it turned out to be, provided further evidence that professional cricket and the village green have as much in common as the Gulf War with a game of marbles.
Far from a mutual invitation to pass the sandwiches during the luncheon interval at Lord's on Saturday, the respective protagonists glared silently at each other across the dining-room table after Derbyshire's Chris Adams and Lancashire's Wasim Akram had become involved in an argument that only just avoided an exchange of short-pitched tea cups, and fast inswinging saucers.
Adams, sporting a complexion almost as purple as the bruise on his shoulder after being hit by a Wasim beamer, plainly took the view that it had not been an accident, doubtless because of his own involvement in an earlier match between these sides which left a residue of bad blood even before the first ball was bowled at Lord's.
The Derbyshire batsman was the first member of his team to question the legality of the ball with which Wasim suddenly began swinging violently in last month's Championship game at Derby, which subsequently resulted in the home team sending it off to Lord's for forensic examination.
Wasim was decreed to have been merely sharp of pace, rather than practice or fingernail, but suspicions that the Pakistani had responded to Derbyshire's parcel post with an air-mail delivery of his own resulted in the lunchtime fracas.
Wasim has no history of malice and he also apologised both at the time of the incident and after the match, but there is no doubt that modern professional cricket is nowadays conducted in an atmosphere not dissimilar to one of Lord Ted's Calcutta smog readings.
The International Cricket Council's first fully paid chief executive has just moved into an office that runs the risk of being converted into a padded cell before he is too much older, charged with sorting out the ever increasing problems of poor behaviour that disfigured last summer's series against Pakistan, and resulted in
Australia being warned by the match referee in the last Test at Trent Bridge.
At Lord's on Saturday, the third umpire in the pavilion was called upon to adjudicate on a close run-out appeal in the final over and while the increased pressures of the game makes it more important to get this sort of borderline decision correct, let there be no doubt about why this system is now in place, and why an international panel of umpires is once again high on the International Cricket Council priority list.
It is entirely because the professional cricketer has, at best, adopted the St Trinian's school of discipline, and, at worst, decided that all their opponents cheat, and that umpires are either biased, incompetent, or both.
Fortunately for the crowd at the final, the two essential ingredients for a showpiece one-day match - a finish in one day, and a nail-bitingly close one - were both there. The rain that threatened a spill over into yesterday relented just in time, and Derbyshire went on to win in the sort of photo-finish that, at nigh on half past eight, almost required a flashgun on the camera.
In mid-morning, with Derbyshire 66 for 4 after being put in to bat, it hardly seemed likely that the match would progress much beyond tea-time, but it was then turned into a compelling contest by Dominic Cork's unbeaten 92, an innings that was a combination of dynamic brilliance and unflappable temperament. Lancashire will probably demand that his bat be sent to Lord's for immediate analysis.
Cork found two crucial allies in Tim O'Gorman and Karl Krikken, firstly in the business of repairing the damage, and secondly in rattling up the runs (77 from the final 11 overs) that required Lancashire to make a higher total than had ever been achieved to win this final in its 22-year history.
That they failed to do so, by six runs, was no fault of their captain, who made a typically rousing 87 not out. Neil Fairbrother is perceived, rightly or wrongly, to have a suspect technique for Test cricket, but in a one-day match, it is the equivalent of locking Billy Bunter in a tuck shop.
It was Fairbrother's misfortune to watch too many partners leave for the pavilion at crucial times, with the asking rate climbing too high, although Lancashire really lost this match in the field. Wasim's 11 overs went for 65, and to describe their fielding as appalling would be unwarranted flattery.
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