Cricket / Benson and Hedges Cup Final: In praise of all good pros: Simon Hughes on the contribution at Lord's of two seasoned veterans

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The Independent Online
ONE-DAY finals are not always the domain of superstars. It is often the old pro who turns in the outstanding contribution for his side. Not exactly the gnarled verterans, but hardly the household names either.

Mike Watkinson and Ian Austin are such cricketers. People you rarely notice whose contributions are nevertheless invaluable. Both are consistent, resilient all- rounders, products of the Lancashire League from where they were hauled from relative obscurity in the 1980s.

They represent the Lancashire engine room very much as Barry Wood and Jack Simmons did in the triumphant Gillette Cup winning side of the early 1970s. Both possess the requisites of a successful one-day bowler - skill, bottle and a sense of humour.

Watkinson has been around longer and could be considered the most versatile cricketer in the land. Able to bowl penetrative outswing or off-breaks when the situation demands, he fields adeptly anywhere and can bat watchfully or manhandle attacks with bludgeoning pulls and pick- ups according to the demands of the situation. His colleagues have lost count of the number of times he has broken important partnerships, as he did at Lord's yesterday, disrupting Derbyshire's initial recovery by capitalising on loose shots by John Morris and Chris Adams.

Austin's skills are less aesthetically pleasing but just as valuable. A brawny 5ft 10in, his

16-stone frame owes much to a substantial appetite, but it belies considerable fitness, very much in the mould of Mike Gatting. He bowls what is termed in the trade 'a heavy ball' - his deliveries relentlessly hit the splice of the bat despite looking, on first appearance, less than potent - is metronomically accurate and holds all sorts of big-hitting records with the bat for his club, Haslingden.

Being entrusted with bowling the opening and closing overs in a Benson and Hedges final is a withering responsibility, but Austin performed this job without a flicker of concern - nothing much worries him. Amid the chaos of mis-fields, desperate dives, huge divots and Kim Barnett's extraordinary footwork, Austin sent down six solid overs, conceded only 12 runs, then watched as some of his more illustrious colleagues let Derbyshire's recovery gain momentum. Later he returned to bowl when bats were whirring almost as fast as Damon Hill's camshaft. But his yorkers were unerring - both he and Watkinson practise these before one-day matches - and kept the size of Lancashire's target to the realms of the attainable.

Derbyshire have their own unsung stalwarts, of course. Morris may have produced a regal drive or two, Barnett a rasping cut, Cork a superlative innings. But without Tim O'Gorman's 49 - played with more guts than guile - and Karl Krikken's rapid 33, we would not have had a contest.

It is a tribute to Barnett's captaincy that Derbyshire reached this stage without an overseas player, a chief executive or any money. But pounds and pence do not inspire the Krikkens and Watkinsons of this world as much as the team ethic, and the pride in personal performance.

The most important attribute that both Watkinson and Austin possess is their trustworthiness. They are always fit and willing and will carry out what you tell them to. Without Surrey's extraordinary decline from 212 for 1 to 230 all out, precipitated by Watkinson and Austin, Lancashire would not have got past the second round.

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