Cricket diary: The bowler who bats and keeps wicket

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The Independent Online
TO round off the season the Diary brings you an interview with the country's most complete cricketer. "Yes, the ultimate all-rounder, I suppose," said Michael Burns, with his tongue propelling a hole in his cheek while at the same time hiding his light under a bushel.

In a nation which has taken enormous pride from their production, Burns is the bits and pieces player non pareil. He is batsman, bowler and wicketkeeper, and as usual this summer he has performed all the functions for Somerset as and when required.

As keeper he has stood in regularly for the injured Rob Turner, as a medium-pace bowler he has frequently been called on in limited- overs matches and has fullfilled his main role as middle-order batsman. "I don't mind wicketkeeping occasionally but I couldn't do it all the time," he said. "All that catching in the morning and in the field all day. It's hard work."

Burns began his cricketing life in his native Cumbria as an off-spin bowler. "I wasn't a very good off-spinner and when they were short of a wicketkeeper one day in the nets I had a go. After that I did it if they were short.

"On the day before I was due to have a trial with Warwickshire, Dermot Reeve, who was their captain then, saw me keeping wicket for Cumbria and he thought it as another string to my bow. I had started medium-pace bowling as well by that time and when I moved down to Somerset a couple of years ago they saw me as a bowler who could be trusted to send down a few overs."

Burns, 29, has taken stumpings and catches in all forms of the game this season and has also been a frequent contributor as a bowler in one-day cricket with six wickets. But he has failed as yet to take a first-class wicket (in the 1997 County Championship he had one stumping and five wickets).

"I've bowled often enough in one-day games but in the Championship, it's not been so much," he said. "You try getting the ball off Andy Caddick." Burns has not this season bowled in a match in which he was selected to keep wicket.

Indeed, few wicketkeepers have been given a bowl this season, partly because there is not so much demand for declaration bowling in the age of four-day matches. Adrian Shaw, of Glamorgan, has had one over for seven runs, the first of his career.

Only Adrian Aymes of Hampshire has taken first-class wickets to add to his figures before the present round of matches of 744 runs, 48 catches and two stumpings. His 2 for 135 against Northamptonshire early in the season were not only his best figures but also doubled his career tally. One of his victims was Mal Loye and not many keepers, in any season, could say that they have dismissed, as a bowler, the second Englishman in the averages.

IF Surrey wished to ensure their challenge for the Championship was to be sustained they could hardly have chosen more perfect opponents than Durham. Surrey had won all six of the previous meetings between the sides since Durham became the 18th senior county in 1992. With 24 points desperately needed it was not hard to deduce who they might want heaving into view.

Still, Surrey, second in the table to Leicestershire, might not have realised that just one other county has beaten Durham in every previous match (with eight wins, by dint of having played them twice in the the first season and already this summer). The record could easily prove decisive. Yes, that's right, Leicestershire.

SPORTING prediction is a notoriously precarious business. Back in April, Keith Fletcher, otherwise known as the Gnome of Chelmsford, who is to cricketing matters what the Gnomes of Zurich are to fiscal ones, said that only six counties had a chance of winning the Championship and named four. "Essex, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Yorkshire, all good sides. All got players who should be playing," he said. At least he got it right in the case of Championship-leading Leicestershire. Essex, however, are 18th.

FOR some reason it was stated (and oft-repeated) last week that Mike Gatting's final first-class appearance would be at Lord's today in the Axa League match between Middlesex and Gloucestershire. The Axa League, consisting of coloured clothes and 40 overs may be many things - hit-and- giggle, entertaining, brash, impure, thrilling - but it is assuredly not first-class. A match must be over three days even to begin to qualify.

BOOK MARK

"There is too much gamesmanship in this respect these days. Test match players will shout `catch it' when the ball comes off the pad knowing full well the batsmen has not touched the ball. In the volatile atmosphere of Test cricket it is hard for an umpire to detect a nick...Test match cricket is so presured these days, particularly when the batting side is defending, that often there are four or five fielders in close positions. This never happened in the old days."

From a book by Dickie Bird - no, not the recent best-seller but a less celebrated tome called Not Out, published 20 years ago, and showing that nothing has been done to ease the umpires' lot.

SILLY POINT

IT has become the fashion for bowlers who capture five wickets in an innings to say that they have taken a Michelle. The gorgeous Hollywood leading lady with that name has apparently never seen a game of cricket and is also probably unaware of the contribution she has made to the sport through a tenuous use of Cockney rhyming slang. Her full name is Michelle Pfeiffer (above), as in "five for", naturally. Batsmen, meanwhile, are aspiring to acquire a Jennifer. This, of course, takes its name from the actress with the singular hairstyle who stars in the Channel 4 American sitcom, Friends. Jennifer Aniston...as in, you will not need to be told "a nice ton".

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