Cricket Diary: : The finger's on the up for the legs before

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The Independent Online
TOWARDS THE end of the Test series against South Africa it seemed that every other batsmen was being ajudged lbw. Indeed, by the very end, when the series was decided by the upholding of a leg-before verdict against Makhaya Ntini it was possible to wonder if this was only mode of dismissal.

There have been more lbw verdicts in a season but the records seem to indicate that England have never, in a home series, gained a higher proportion of their wickets in such a manner. Of the 65 South African wickets they took, no fewer than 13 needed the eyes and finger of the umpire (as well, of course, as the acuracy of the bowler).

England did not gain a single leg before in any of the first three Tests when they captured 25 wickets, meaning that 32.5 per cent of their victims in their two victories were gained that way. South Africa might be said not to have had the rub of the green. Though they had lbw appeals upheld from the start of the series they managed only 12 in all although they took 89 England wickets (still a handsome 10 per cent, mind).

Last year during the Ashes series England gained 10 lbw verdicts from 94 wickets (9.4 per cent) while Australia got 15 from their 11 wickets (13.5 per cent). Considering the gap in bowling standards the gap between the proportion of legs before might have been higher.

However, the perception, which admittedly gained pace at Headingley, that there are more lbw decisions than there used to be is not quite right. In the Ashes series of 1953 there were 26, England narrowly being the greater beneficiaries, in those days before neutral umpires (and regaining the little urn), with 16 from 92 (17.4 per cent) compared to 10 from 70 (14.2 per cent). But a half century ago when the Australians were again the visitors they trounced England and did so, to boot, by being given only six lbws while taking 91 English wickets (6.5 per cent) while England had seven from 63 (11.1 per cent).

In 1955 when South Africa toured there were 35 lbw decisions among the 185 wickets taken, the tourists doing marginally better. The legendary season of 1981 brought 43 lbws in 224 wickets, England getting 22 of them. In 1984, when a great West Indies side won the series 5-0, there were also 35 lbws. England got 11 of them in their 63 wickets and the West Indies were awarded 24 such decisions, almost 25 per cent of their haul. Mind you, nobody was arguing.

AMONG THE pleasures of the Emirates final at Lord's (and there were several) was the presence of David Constant. Throughout, he was chirpy, involved and so clearly enjoying the game. It is a common misconception that Dickie Bird, truly a legend, is the longest-serving umpire in the English first-class game. Not so. Constant was appointed to the list in 1969, a year before the Yorkshireman. Still only 57, he should be standing until well into the millennium.

At one time it looked as though Constant might match Bird's number of Test matches but he came off the panel in sad circumstances. It was said he had upset the Pakistan touring team of 1982 with his handling of the Headingley Test and they objected to his presence (to no avail) on their next visit in 1987. His last Test, his 36th (Bird did 66), was England against Sri Lanka in August 1988. Since then his only internationals have been one-dayers, against New Zealand in 1990 and India in 1996. It is to be hoped his smiling face at Lord's on Thursday was the start of a longer reunion with the international game.

THE OTHER week the Diary paid justified tribute to Jan Brittin, the prodigious England opener, who narrowly missed out on a third consecutive Test century in the Third Women's Test against Australia on Friday. Before this series, her most recent Test hundred was against India 12 years ago. The innings were separated by 12 years (and 19 innings), surely the longest span between Test hundreds.

Richard Scruton of Northallerton knew otherwise. He wrote to point out that Warren Bardsley, the left-handed Australian opener, made 164 against South Africa at Lord's in 1912 (in the first Triangular Tournament of them all) and did not compile another Test century till 1926, 20 Tests and 31 innings later, when he made 193no against England, also at Lord's, at 43 the oldest Australian to make a century against England. There was, of course, a war in between.

BOOK MARK

"This, however, was not only in itself a tremendous contest that put the emotions under severest strain... it was also one that marked and was seen to mark... the arrival of a cricketer of unique gifts whose play would henceforth dominate the game as it had not been dominated since the era of W G. Don Bradman had come to England two months before... Plum Warner was already announcing the arrival of a star of extraordinary brightness. But it was the Lord's innings which clinched the matter..."

E W Swanton, 91, in I Was There (1966), reprinted in Last Over (1996) on the 254 made at Lord's in 1930 by Sir Donald Bradman, who will be 90 on Thursday.

SILLY POINT

Considering that the Sri Lankans are not playing a Test match at Lord's this summer Marvan Attapatu (pictured, right) has done exceedingly well there.

His 132 not out at the old ground on Thursday in the final of the Emirates Triangular One-day International tournament followed his 114 there against Middlesex. It is understandably rare for a member of the touring team to score two hundreds at Lord's. It is not unique.

Allan Border got two for Australia in 1985, one in the Test and one against MCC, but in 1989 his fellow Australian Geoff Marsh made three centuries: one in the one-dayer, one against MCC and one against Middlesex. He failed to register three figures only in the Test match.

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