Cricket / Benson & Hedges Cup Final: Marshall ready for final effort: Martin Johnson on the men that could decide the destiny of the Benson and Hedges Cup at Lord's today

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The Independent Online
MEMORABLE one-day matches, such as Essex versus Lancashire on Thursday, are measured less by the gentle unravelling of plot and counter plot, than whether the crowd's collective pulse rate is approaching pneumatic drill level towards the end.

This being the case, today's Benson and Hedges Cup final at Lord's threatens to be a disappointment - not so much because of the teams involved, but because of the weather forecast. There is, by all accounts, enough rain scheduled to fall on St John's Wood for the match to dribble over into tomorrow, and two-day one-day games are invariably a let-down.

If the Met Office boys have got it wrong, however, it should be a good one. After 14 years, Malcolm Marshall has finally reached his first Lord's final with Hampshire, and not the least part of Kent's motivation today will be that they are fed up with hearing about it.

These days, fast bowlers appear to collect stress fractures and groin strains at about the same rate as planes take off from Heathrow (Cardigan Connor faces a fitness test on a hamstring this morning), but the 34-year-old Marshall has the remarkable record of only 10 first-class games missed for Hampshire since his debut in 1979.

Marshall has, in fact, appeared in a Lord's final once before - when the West Indies lost the World Cup to India here in 1983 - but his commitment to Hampshire makes today no less of an occasion for him than that one was. He requires four wickets to reach 1,000 for his county, and with the adrenalin running, you would not bet too heavily against him achieving that landmark in this match.

He bowled pretty well against Kent in Thursday's NatWest Trophy game at Southampton, but Kent won the match, plus whatever psychological bonus points were going for today's game. They do not have Hampshire's charismatic cast of individuals, but they are as efficient a one-day unit as any in the country.

Kent's golden years were in the 1970s, when they won no fewer than 11 trophies, and the only bickering heard at Canterbury came from the treasurer, wondering how he could afford to pay for all that Brasso. For a decade afterwards, however, their propensity for internecine strife was matched only by Yorkshire, and their trophy cabinet became a home for colonies of spiders.

Mike Denness was sacked in 1976 (Kent won two competitions that year), as was Chris Tavare as captain, against the players' wishes, in 1984. Bob Woolmer coached them in 1987 before falling out with a committee that was not only unwieldy of number, but, to many, looked and moved like a gallery of old Lord Kitchener posters.

Terry Alderman took 174 wickets in two seasons in the 80s, but was not invited back because he told the committee what he thought of Chris Cowdrey's captaincy, and Kent began signing up moderate overseas players, such as Hartley Alleyne and Tony Merrick.

However, since streamlining the committee a couple of years ago, and employing the services of Darryl Foster as coach, they are suddenly on a roll again. Morale is high, and, in Carl Hooper, they once again have an overseas player of high quality.

Mark Benson and Neil Taylor are fine, underrated batsmen, Mark Ealham is an all-rounder to watch, and Matthew Fleming has already won four man of the match awards this season. They may just poop the Marshall party.

Hampshire (from): Terry, Middleton, Smith, Gower, Nicholas, James, Marshall, Parks, Udal, Maru, Connor, Ayling, Aymes, Bakker.

Kent (from): Ward, Benson, Taylor, Cowdrey, Hooper, Fleming, Marsh, Ealham, Davis, McCague, Igglesden, Ellison.