Cricket / Benson and Hedges Cup Final: Udal unveils the scientific approach - Derek Hodgson on a spinner ready for superior status who enjoyed a fine Lord's weekend

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The Independent Online
ROBIN SMITH, new haircut, new beard, new bat, rightly won the Gold Award for his demoralising 90 runs in the Benson and Hedges final - but the performance that will have most interested the England manager, Micky Stewart, was that of Hampshire's off-spinner Shaun Udal.

Udal is only 23, which represents infancy in a spinner's career, but such was Mark Nicholas's faith in his capabilities that Udal was left to face the slog, sharing the last 10 overs against Kent with Malcom Marshall and Cardigan Connor.

Udal bowls with a maturity beyond his years. He has sufficient technique, defending or attacking, and, with an admirable temperament unusual in a young man, he is capable of keeping control of his length and direction even when under assault from such as Carl Hooper and Steve Marsh, to name two of his three victims yesterday.

His length was such that, when Kent tried to drive him, they endangered the stumps; his direction ensured that he was almost never cut or pulled and if, in desperation, they tried to hit over the top, he had a man placed, waiting.

It was a cool, almost scientific display from an off-spinner who seems certain to follow John Emburey as a regular Test player.

If Stewart had to pick an off-spinner for a Test match in October, he would still probably go for the crafty 'Ernie' Emburey. But next year, in India, Udal may get his chance. A new off-spinner is needed and Udal, this week, looks a class ahead of the younger school of Croft, Trump, Ball and Batty.

Smith explained his new look by saying that after 'a lean spell' he felt he needed a new image. 'I got the hair cut, remembered I had a beard when we won the Benson in 1988 and got myself a new bat. It's worked'.

Malcom Marshall was emotional: 'I've fulfilled an ambition: winning a final at Lord's after missing two and after being 13 years with the county. I'll play the rest of my time with Hampshire now, and perhaps play for Natal in the winter.'

Nicholas himself was cool and assured: 'Malcolm was so determined to play that he wouldn't practice fielding on Friday. He said: 'I've not come this far to break a finger.'

'I think we deserved this,' Nicholas added. 'We had to beat Essex, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Middlesex, Somerset and Kent to do it. Now the Championship . . . we've got to reclaim those 16 points we lost to Essex, but come September we'll be there.'

Marshall, grinning, said: 'We're the best in the country, no doubt about that.' Smith nodded his new beard in agreement.