Cricket / Benson and Hedges Cup Final: Sewing up this needle match will need an opportunist's eye

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The Independent Online
DOMESTIC Cup finals, unlike Ashes Test matches, tend to be as good natured as they are hard-fought, but just at the moment, today's Benson and Hedges protagonists are the sort of northern neighbours who are not so much chatting amiably over the garden fence, as training the whippet to take a slice out of next door's trousers.

Lancashire and Derbyshire have already squared up to each other twice at Lord's this summer, not on the field as yet, but in that area of the Test and County Cricket Board's internal labyrinth that falls under the general description of the office of fair trading. It involved, on both occasions, a ball.

In the first instance, Derbyshire's John Morris was given out when a ball became lodged between pad and glove, and Lancashire's wicketkeeper, Warren Hegg, nipped round from behind the stumps to collect it and claim the catch. Derbyshire, miffed at what they considered to be a breach of etiquette, are not convinced either that the Laws are entirely clear on this subject, and have written to Lord's asking for clarification.

Derbyshire have also utilised the parcel post in their dealings with Lancashire, sending off the ball used by their opponents (including Wasim Akram) in their recent Championship fixture at Derby, for forensic examination. The TCCB found nothing wrong with it, but Lancashire's feelings were scuffed up on one side.

It is reasonable to speculate that Derbyshire did not take these decisions lightly, for the simple reason that they can barely afford the price of a second class stamp these days. They have an overdraft of around pounds 400,000, and are minus a chief executive after their recent financial purge.

Lancashire, by contrast, keep their cash in a vault as opposed to a sandwich tin. Their membership, the largest in the country, has long since had a waiting list, while Derbshire, whose own support is the smallest in the country, would not so much invite potential members into a waiting room, as ask which part of the ground they would like named after them.

Not since 1934, since their players appeared on cigarette cards rather than the Benson and Hedges Cup, have Lancashire won the County Championship, but no side has matched their success in the abbreviated form of the game, and miracle though it was that they got past the second round (Surrey, chasing 237, disintegrating from 212 for 1 to 230 all out) Lancashire will be bidding today for their 11th one-day trophy.

Derbyshire have won two, and were deprived of the opportunity of making it three when they last contested this final in 1988 when they lost the toss on a ridiculously damp pitch. By noon they were 32 for 4, and Hampshire had their hands on the trophy by five o'clock.

Derbyshire's morale will not have been improved by losing their NatWest game in midweek, when Devon Malcolm's radar was on the blink to the tune of 1 for 77 in 11 overs, and they have arrived at Lord's despite losing the services of their overseas bowler, Ian Bishop. Lancashire, on the other hand, have the finest all- round cricketer in the world for this sort of contest in Wasim.

However, Kim Barnett, who remains a long-shot choice to captain England in the West Indies this winter, has helped weld a side more capable of winning this game than the match odds (4-9 Lancashire, 13-8 Derbyshire) suggest. These come from Sporting Index, who have introduced a betting system on individuals.

For instance, should you fancy wagering pounds 1 on Wasim to score more than the bookmakers' fixed figure of 27, and he makes twice that many, you win pounds 27. Likewise, should you fancy him to score less than the 24 runs quoted, and he makes 0, you make pounds 24. It is one way of sustaining interest all the way through a format often so sterotyped that the term which applies here - needle match - might merely be an invitation to bring along a good sewing pattern.