Cricket: Captains await final score

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The Independent Online
Australia are next summer's visitors, and it is fair to say that England have a few old scores to settle. Among the old scores in question are: an innings and 180 runs, 10 wickets, nine wickets, and eight wickets - representing the more gruesome margins of defeat in an aggregate of played 12, won 0, lost 8 since England's last victory over the old enemy, at Melbourne in December 1986.

As is now the custom against Australia, there will be six Test matches, in the only country still capable of sustaining a programme in which the one-day international remains a supporting act to the main event, without running the risk of spectators being allocated with their own personal turnstile.

There is also a County Championship that, for the first time, embraces a format intended to give England a better chance of winning Test matches, although opponents of four-day cricket remain confident in their belief that it is a recipe for loss of revenue and future sponsorship from Mogadon.

We shall see, as indeed we shall see players performing for an extra two hours on a Sunday, and kitted out in gear louder than an MCC tie. The contest between the traditionalists and the marketing men has become as lopsided as a No 11 playing Waqar's yorker, but it remains to be seen whether 50 overs per side and multi-coloured clothing can stave off the counter-attractions of Sunday lunch and the car boot sale.

This summer's visitors represent the most commercially minded country of all, although South Africa are catching up fast judging by the revolving advertisements on the sightscreens for their current series against India. Soon, bowlers will be discouraged from scuffing up the ball on one side, not so much for infringing Law 42, as for rubbing off an insurance company's logo.

As far as the Test series goes, it almost certainly marks the captaincy swan-songs of both Graham Gooch and Allan Border. Gooch will signal the end of his overseas travels by returning home after the Indian leg of this winter's tour, and while you would not entirely rule out a second coronation for Mike Gatting, the line of succession currently points to the House of Stewart.

Border, unlike Gooch, will probably quit altogether once he gives up the captaincy, and he has already indicated that this tour will be his last. The success he enjoyed on his last visit, by encouraging a ruthless streak that led to anything but cordial relations on the field, will doubtless prevail again, but Border's cricketing achievements should guarantee him as warm a send-off at The Oval as Vivian Richards received last summer.

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