Cricket Diary: Piper catches a rare following

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The Independent Online
FOR the past fortnight of this high summer the ball off the edge of the bat has refused to stay out of Keith Piper's gloves. It has found its way there with the certainty of moths to flames and gold-digging blondes to the arms of multi-millionaires.

Piper feels like a millionaire at the moment. He is the first wicketkeeper in history to register seven dismissals in an innings in two successive matches. Those remarkable games brought him 20 victims in all, nine against Essex, 11 against Derbyshire. You begin to get the feeling that this could be Warwickshire's season.

'Some of them have been straightforward chances, but I've been really pleased with a few,' said Piper last week as he prepared to help Warwickshire to their seventh successive Championship victory, against Worcestershire. 'It's been such a change really. Early in the season I was only getting two or three edges a game to go for. Now they just won't stop coming.'

Piper, 24 and exuding confidence, remains aware that he cannot call the tune alone. The bowler must take some of the credit and in Warwickshire's case the line on the scorecard which says 'caught Piper, bowled Munton' must be starting to stretch the supplies of manufacturers of ditto marks.

Tim Munton is the bowler in question - he provided Piper with nine of his recent 20 victims - and the keeper is appropriately grateful: 'Tim is having a fantastic season. We thought we were bound to lose him to England. I've got mixed feelings. You want him to be in but you want him here too.'

Talk of England led naturally to the question posed of all cricketers who run into a rich vein of form. What about Piper for England, or at least England A? 'All that would be nice but I'm putting no pressure on myself,' said Piper who belongs to the school which believes that wicketkeepers are born rather than made. 'I was glad just to get a contract at first, and now I'm happy to have secured my place in the side. I haven't thought of anything else.'

However, he has been compared to the legendary Alan Knott by Warwickshire's innovative coach, Bob Woolmer, while the only other English keeper to have had seven dismissals in an innings more than once is another of recent high-class vintage, Bob Taylor. 'My runs have dried up at the moment,' said Piper, realising that wickies are expected to do more than snaffle catches and stumpings. 'Mind you, that'll be put right this match.'

That remark was born of confidence pervading the whole Warwickshire side. It shows no signs of wearing off and it would be extremely inadvisable of any opposition batsman to nick the ball, off outside or inside edge, anywhere, say, between second slip or backward short leg.

NOBODY seems in any doubt that Riverside, Durham's splendidly fashioned new ground at Chester-le-Street, will stage a Test match one day. Whether the host county will provide any of the England players may be more questionable. The ground, like the Durham team, is not yet the finished article, and romantics may not be alone in hoping that a couple of revisions can be made.

For instance, the five projected stands are known as modules. Module One is still under construction. Stands at cricket grounds are traditionally named after former players and there has never yet been one called Module.

When the first match was played on the ground last week, between Durham II and Middlesex II, it was announced that the bowlers were coming either from the North End or the South End. This is probably the price you pay for having a lovely ground in a rural setting. There are no roads after which to name the ends.

The pitch itself played well and the slightly variable bounce was only to be expected on virgin grass. The TCCB pitches inspector Harry Brind was satisfied. It was all about grass and rooting, he said, and it would take five years for the square to reach full maturity.

'It wouldn't be fit for first-class cricket now. It will be by next summer. Eventually, it will have pace and bounce. It will be more like The Oval than Headingley.'

NO matter what the state of roots, grass, pace or bounce, the decisive factor in two matches to be played on Tuesday might be the starting time. The NatWest Trophy semi-finals at Edgbaston and The Oval begin at 10.30am and every cricketer thinks that if you lose the toss and bat you will also lose the match.

Surrey and Worcestershire have never met at this stage before. Warwickshire and Kent last did so in 1984. The only survivors from that contest are Paul Smith and Gladstone Small (unlikely to be fit) for Warwickshire and Mark Benson and Neil Taylor for Kent. Warwickshire lost the toss, the ball seamed around early and they lost the match as Benson got a hundred when the sun came out.

T-SHIRT of the week belonged to the England captain, Michael Atherton, on the Headingley balcony. It showed his admirable sense of cricketing history, bearing as it did a picture of two great England opening batsmen walking to the crease: Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe. In 70 years' time a future England captain might sport a picture of Atherton and Gooch.

TWELFTH MAN

TOM CARTWRIGHT, the former Warwickshire, Somerset, Glamorgan and England seam bowler, who was 12th man in the 1963 bowling averages, says of uncovered pitches: 'Contrary to belief they do not encourage poor bowlers to get wickets but good bowlers to strive harder. The difference is getting six for 30, instead of six for 80. They also prove who the good batsmen are, and they must return one day.'

(Photograph omitted)

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