Cricket: Dexter turns blind eye to Botham bash: England's ageing warhorse sends back Border before Healy and the Waugh brothers turn match for Australians

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Australians . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .203-9

Duchess of Norfolk's XI . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .196

Australians win by seven runs

THE Australians have been making their traditional visit to the Duchess's Castle since 1956, but never have they pulled in the sort of crowd they did yesterday. The police closed the gates before lunch, leaving the A27 littered with boiling radiators and boiling tempers. With the ground approximately 100 portable loos short for comfort, there were also a few pained expressions from the record 15,000 shoehorned inside the old stone walls.

The attraction, of course, might have had nothing to do with the Australians at all. The old warhorse himself was turning out for the Duchess, and Ian Botham has already announced (all those bottles of Perrier water and the early nights having finally caught up with him) that this is to be his final season.

Botham still harbours ambitions of playing a part in this summer's Ashes series, and while this match is the nearest thing to a friendly that is possible against the ancient enemy, Botham had not just popped in to ask Allan Border and Co to join him on his next charity fund-raiser. Australians, as we all know, do not walk anyway.

In the event, Botham did not make a bad start in his attempt to prove that there is still a bark or two left in an old dog, taking 2 for 29 in his 10 overs, and then striking one of only two sixes in a match normally littered with them. Almost at once, however, he lost his off stump aiming something almost as violent at Mark Waugh, and his humour would not have been improved by the resident announcer. 'Thanks for coming, Ian,' he chirruped, as Botham waded through a throng of small boys on his way back to the pavilion.

Earlier in the day, the same voice had trumpeted the Duchess's men on to the field by saying Her Grace had chosen 'one of the strongest sides ever to take the field here', a statement that would have been substantially more accurate had he substituted the word oldest for strongest.

None the less, for a time it appeared as though the Australians might be in for an embarrassing day. Half-way through their 50 overs they were 68 for 5, with Border just having been as comprehensively bowled by Botham as he was during the 1992 World Cup. The great man earned an approving nod from his old adversary, as he would have done from the parents of countless young boys clamouring for his autograph yesterday. Botham signed so many that his next visit to the physio's table might be for writer's cramp.

He was also (judging by the way Dean Headley took the first wicket with a legside long hop that David Boon thin-edged to the keeper) busy passing on a few tips to the more youthful members of the side yesterday, but both of Botham's wickets came from good deliveries, and Ted Dexter was twice invited to comment on his performance between innings. However, the England chairman's responses - a blank silence, followed by 'Perhaps the Australians are trying to get him into the side' - did not suggest that a Texaco Trophy call awaits.

Australia's final total of 203 largely revolved around a face-saving partnership of 82 between Steve Waugh and Ian Healy, and despite Paul Parker's half-century, it proved to be just enough. Brendon Julian, the 6ft 5in left-armer from Western Australia, and Paul Reiffel, the workhorse bowler in the squad, both looked pretty useful, although it was Mark Waugh who filleted the home team's middle order with his gentle seamers.

The game itself, of course, proved very little, apart from the fact that the Prime Minister's success in getting his car through the gate suggests that diversions such as the economy and Maastrict may struggle to get his full attention in an Ashes summer.

(Photograph omitted)