Cricket Diary: Year zero for team of the Nineties

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THEY WERE the team of the Nineties but they are now in a desperate battle to avoid starting the new millennium in the Championship second division. "I think we'll be watching the scores minute by minute until the very last day of the season," said Dennis Amiss, chief executive of Warwickshire, where the good times have suddenly ceased to roll.

The final four weeks of English first-class cricket in the 20th century will be dominated by the struggle in the middle of the table. As last week's round of matches began, only six points separated the sides between seventh and 12th places. Warwickshire, winners of seven trophies this decade and twice county champions, were 11th.

"We don't know because it's never happened before, but being in the second division will probably affect our sponsors and the interest there is in coming to watch us," Amiss said. "Mind you, while we certainly don't want to be in the Second Division there is the example of Birmingham City football club to look at. They regularly do quite well in the First Division without getting to the Premiership and because of that they get very good crowds and a lot of people care about them."

What Warwickshire's status will certainly influence is the level of performance bonuses. As Amiss pointed out: "There is a difference obviously between the rewards likely to be on offer for doing well in the First Division and doing well in the Second Division and the players know that only too well."

The embarrassment factor is also to be reckoned with. The members of the Test Match Grounds Consortium have made much of trying to prise more money from the England and Wales Cricket Board because of their supposed prominence and their extra costs. It is an argument unlikely to gain much sympathy if any of them are in the Second Division.

Nottinghamshire, having another moderate season, are 15th and they could easily be joined in the bottom rank by Lancashire and Warwickshire. Pitches could yet be decisive in who goes where - Edgbaston, where Warwickshire have two matches to play including the last, will favour bowlers - and it will be intriguing to note if blind eyes are turned to poor surfaces as sides take a gamble on securing the points.

"Almost every side will be involved," Amiss said. "We've had a lot of injuries this summer but now is not the time to be dwelling on those. It could go down to the very last ball on the very last day." Pity if fascination with the two-tier system diverted attention from Surrey's (almost certain) first Championship win since 1971, but a greater pity if the team of the Nineties fail to make the cut.

ENGLAND'S LATEST selection panel may not necessarily last long. (Come to that, which selection panel in the Nineties has?) Messrs Graveney (chairman), Hussain (captain) and Fletcher (coach) picked the team for the Fourth Test and will also pick the winter touring party for South Africa, to be announced on Wednesday.

But there is an agreement in place for there to be a fourth man. The England Management Advisory Committee will consider during the winter whether to fill the vacancy. If they decide that it would be better to have a quartet than a trio (and quartets generally make a better sound) it will be a longer trawl to get the right fellow.

The idea of having a panel consisting largely of fortysomethings (as in Graveney, Gatting, Gooch) because they were closer to the game has been seen to be flawed. Expect the search to be on for an experienced, wise former player above 50 who has not made a beeline for press or commentary box. Suggestions to Brian Bolus, chairman of Emac.

UNDER DAVID GRAVENEY'S chairmanship of the selection committee, 14 players have now been awarded a Test debut. The pair on show at The Oval, Darren Maddy and Ed Giddins, may not be comforted much by the thought that none of the previous 12 was in the team.

NOT THAT it is anything to do with Chris Read, dropped from the Fourth Test, or Alec Stewart, taking the wicketkeeper's gloves, but it is precisely 65 years ago today since a world record was created at The Oval. Recalled to the side at the age of 47, the great all-rounder Frank Woolley had to don the keeper's gloves in Australia's second innings (Les Ames had a bad back) and conceded 37 byes, which remains the largest number in a Test innings.

BOOK MARK

"IT HAS been said that the best commentators make the worst mistakes. As a statement that is untrue, and has the ring of somebody laughing off incompetence... The best commentators are those who have most trouble conquering their nerves... commentary is always a strain, tension builds up over the years; sleep is the first thing to go. This is when you begin to drink too much and reach for the barbiturates too often." From A Mingled Yarn, by Alan Gibson, letting the young bucks at Channel 4 know what is in store.

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