Cricket Diary: A glorious spectacle of mutual benefit

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As Cardigan Connor said of his only innings last week: "Believe it or not the pulse was racing and the heart was beating a little bit. It would have been a bad time to get out. We needed a few."

The nerves did the trick. Connor, the venerable Hampshire seamer, dug his side out of a hole of potentially embarrassing proportions by scoring a rapid, invaluable half-century. This, you may have noticed, was neither in the county's Axa Law League victory on Sunday nor their NatWest Trophy defeat on Wednesday in both of which Connor played but did not bat.

It was in the contest between Hampshire and the Sussex village side of Elsted last Tuesday, one of those days that persuaded you that God's in his heaven and all's right with the world. Actually, heaven knows what the denizens of the brave new England and Wales Cricket Board would have made of it.

Here were a team consisting of one of the planet's greatest fast bowlers, Malcolm Marshall, a few seasoned county stalwarts, Adrian Aymes, Shaun Udal, Connor, and some aspiring young professionals, against a team of village players. It was a benefit match, one of dozens played every summer by Connor and fellow beneficiaries by way of raising cash for their funds and saying thanks to their public. End the benefit system, as many now propose, and convivial affairs like that in Elsted may be at risk. There ought to be a rally in London to ensure their preservation.

It was a big day in the life of the village as the club chairman, Matt Ayling, confirmed. "We talked about it for weeks beforehand and we'll talk about it for weeks afterwards. It was a match we were probably never going to win but the team did themselves and the village proud."

Elsted (population: 150) typify the spirit of village cricket. They were defunct for several years, restarted five seasons ago and this summer have moved to a spanking new ground for which they pay annual rent of four ounces of peppercorn and where the ravishing views across the Sussex Downs will disturb the concentration of many a batsman. Perhaps, indeed, this distraction was reponsible for Malcolm Marshall, given a terrific ovation on his way to the crease, allowing himself to be hit on the pad and adjudged lbw first ball.

Connor, as relaxed and welcoming as a favourite, old cardigan, said: "These are great days for cricketers and on grounds like this you could play forever. Of course, you don't want to lose either."

Hampshire (for once this season) didn't. Despite some top drawer fielding and persistent bowling they made 214 all out in exactly 30 overs and then dismissed Elsted for 89. "They like to see people like me and Malcolm bowl at reasonable pace," said Connor. The man of the match was 17-year- old Mark Heiseman who took two wickets and two stunning catches. He can talk about the match for rather more than weeks. It was obviously to his benefit.

IN an entertaining discourse after play one evening in the Third Test at Old Trafford, the England coach David Lloyd explained the vagaries of the pitch. The middle was on a clay base which, allied to the arena's natural bowl shape, made it reasonably lush, he said.

However, the ends, where less water congregated, were drier and less grassy and thus gave encouragement to wrist spin, though not necessarily, finger spin, bowling. Lloyd went further into the Mancunian climate changes which give Old Trafford its special properties and the way a wicket would evolve over three or four days.

Lloyd has been player, coach, commentator and after-dinner speaker, and should another career change be required, groundsman is clearly not out of the question.

IN scoring 324 in the NatWest Trophy last Wednesday, Derbyshire became the 17th of the 18 first-class counties to register a score of more than 300 in the competition against another first-class county.

Durham did so as a minor county (against Glamorgan in 1991) and surprisingly only Kent have never made so many. Leicestershire have passed 300 a record five times (out of 41 such totals), though this may be scant consolation since they failed to make it six on Wednesday in pursuing Yorkshire's 310 and were all out for 182. Hampshire became ther fifth side to make 300 and lose.

Book mark: "At last, at three minutes past, the enormous, indestructible figure with greying beard and striped cap emerged from the door and, followed at a respectful distance by his colleagues, came down the Pavilion steps and through the gate. Everyone on the ground stood and there rose a mighty, deafening, inarticulate roar, followed by a volley of hurrahs."

From WG's Birthday Party by David Kynaston, a chronicle of the match to mark W G Grace's half centenary in 1898 and a reminder that the doctor, the 149th anniversary of whose birth is next Friday, was the first sporting superstar.

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