Cricket Diary: Roope slips back into old routine

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HE played 21 Test matches. In one of them, crucially, he kept the Australians at bay. For 18 seasons he was an integral, jaunty member of the Surrey middle order.

He also bowled a tidy medium pace, occasionally kept wicket and was among the most spectacular slip fielders of his or any other generation, with hands which scooped like a JCB digger and moved like a Formula One racing car.

Graham Roope was 48 on Tuesday and still plays cricket. In the beautiful shadow of Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire he spends many a summer evening batting for the village side. There could hardly be a wider gap: from the highest form of the game to the lowest.

'I do it because I still enjoy it,' he said. 'And as long as I enjoy it I'll keep playing. Cricket gave me a lot, it gave me a chance to meet Presidents and Prime Ministers. I think too many players pack up playing altogether as soon as their professional days are finished. This is a little way of putting something back.'

Nor should you imagine that he strolls gently through games with nary a care in the world. In an evening cup match against the nearby village of Brawby last week on a pitch which had been not only uncovered but watered because of the heat, and then rained upon, he went in at No. 4.

He made 40 and looked quite as determined as he was that time back in 1975 when he made 77 as Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson hurled the lot at him. The pitch undid him in the end (at Rievaulx Abbey, that is, not The Oval), the ball rearing off a length to have him caught at short third man.

'It was only the second time I've been out,' he said. 'I try not to give my wicket away easily. It wouldn't be right and opponents wouldn't expect it.'

Keeping wicket, he was tigerish as Rievaulx, narrowly failed to defend a total of 80, which, given the spite in the pitch, bordered on the formidable. He cajoled his colleagues, urged them to greater effort. He still gets disappointed at losing.

'I do get frustrated at times,' he confessed, 'with the pitches and with some of the lads. But it's important to keep the game going at this level and I'm really glad to help out. A few more have joined and there have been no problems from other teams.'

Roope is careful to bat low down the order in Feversham League matches - the scorebook reveals him at eight and nine in several games - and he does not bowl. He enjoys wicketkeeping and seems as proud of the day he kept for England in a Test in Pakistan as he is of his breathtaking slip fielding.

At weekends he still plays, successfully, in the Bradford League for Farsley but has probably created a bigger impression in rural Ryedale. During a break for rain in the last Test a recording was shown of a Roope innings against New Zealand. The schoolchildren he coaches were genuinely excited next day.

'Some of the pitches we play on are truly awful and not the best for letting youngsters play on. But Yorkshiremen are superb. It's terrific fun.' He is probably right but not many others have bothered to make the long journey from The Oval to Rievaulx.

THIS is not another of those carping items about the quality of television cricket commentary which smarmily advise the turning on of the radio. However, it would be welcome if the chaps could resist, on each occasion Graham Gooch is involved in the proceedings, referring to his age.

A randomly kept log reveals that Geoff Boycott and David Gower are the leading culprits. Gower seems constantly to refer to England's best batsman as 'the old boy' while Geoffrey shows mock sympathy for a man obviously in his dotage having to run around the boundary. This is mystifying as Gower could still be playing and Boycott played Tests at 41.

It is well known that Gooch is 40. He is not decrepit so far as one can tell but next Saturday, the third day of the first Test against South Africa, he will be 41. This could cause paroxysms of mirth and wonder in the commentary box and it might just be better to turn down the sound slightly.

ON the subject of television it appears the players cannot do without it. The Championship leaders Surrey asked for one to be installed in their dressing-room when they visited quaint Darlington (a local dealer obliged) and the new England fast-bowling hope Darren Gough constantly watches opposition batsmen in action to detect weakness. It got him, he reports, at least one wicket on his debut.

ROTTEN suggestion of the week occurred at Harrogate where Yorkshire were eliminated early from the Costcutter Trophy, successor to the equally renowned Tilcon Trophy. They lost in the semi-finals, or put another way, the first round. It is natural that the Yorkies should like to win things again because for three- quarters of a century they did little else. As somebody mentioned, for Yorkshire to be in the running somebody may have to come up with a tournament involving just one team.

TWELFTH MAN: M J K (Mike) Smith, of Warwickshire and England, who was 12th man in the batting averages in 1956. He was also captain of England the last time they played South Africa at The Oval in 1965, hit the last runs to be scored against them and recollected: 'We had been to South Africa the previous winter and won a hard series by the odd Test. When they came over here we had the basis of a good side and they were a bit weak in the spin bowling department. The run chase at the very end would have been interesting had it not rained but they deserved to win the series.'

(Photograph omitted)