Cricket: Crawley thwarted

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IN BLISSFUL June weather in front of an appreciative, shoe- horned crowd, the County Ground at Northampton would still feature low on one's list of idyllic cricket venues. In 1994, the Year of the Drizzle, it is a forlorn sight.

Yesterday the umpires, Barrie Meyer and Chris Balderstone, did not even have to make a ritual splash to the wicket before declaring the day dead at 2.50.

That will have suited the home skipper Allan Lamb, who told them that he was popping 'down the road' at lunchtime, but promised to phone in at three o'clock. By that time, the ground was deserted. 'It always rains on Old Players' Day,' said Andrew Radd, custodian of the press box and author of the club's history. Indeed many Northamptonshire stars of former decades did make it through the rain for a nostalgic lunch.

Dennis Brookes, the top- order stalwart of the 1950s team in Freddie Brown's days, did not have far to come - he lives within a Kapil Dev slog of the ground, and is a faithful observer at home matches. Among the greying diners sharing memories were Roy Virgin, the Somerset exile who found a second career in Northampton; that neatest of 1950s wicketkeepers, Keith Andrew; and the prodigious leg-break bowler Mushtaq Mohammed, who served Northamptonshire for more than a decade before retiring in 1977.

If Ray Illingworth indeed feels that it would be unfair for John Crawley to leapfrog players such as Graham Thorpe into the England team, even though he can find no place for Thorpe, then Crawley must continue patiently to build a weight of runs in arenas like this. He was an elegant 69 not out overnight, and no one would have been more frustrated by the wretched weather. In Northamptonshire's first innings of 330, the 24-year-old Cornishman Tony Penberthy confirmed his talent with a backbone innings of 79 not out, while Crawley and Lancashire will resume on 190 for four in what is already yet another fixture compromised by the rain.