Cricket: Elegant Swanns' day

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The Independent Online
Derbyshire 199

Northamptonshire 203-5

Northamptonshire win by five wickets

ANY TALK of the demise of Second XI cricket is premature, as this one- day AON Trophy final demonstrated. The game is finally trying to bridge its own class divide.

It is happening slowly, but there is a distinct shift of emphasis in the lower reaches of the county game whereby the Dinky Doos (to rhyme with Twos), as the Second XI sides are known, are no longer the verdant pastures on which faithful old work-horses can slip into semi-retirement, all the while keeping out some thrusting youngster who has places to go, things to achieve, but nowhere to do so.

Now, the powers that be, the County boards, have diverted these cricketing backwaters into tributaries of the mainstream game. The importance of Second XI cricket is being recognised as the game heads into the 21st century.

Steve Coverdale interrupted watching the AON Trophy final between Northamptonshire (where he is chief executive) and Derbyshire at Wantage Road to explain: "Second XI cricket is an integral part of the development programme. It represents the only stepping stone between the recreational game and first- class cricket." On the evidence yesterday, there is every reason to believe Coverdale is right.

Northamptonshire, who have a successful youth policy, the focus of which will be their new indoor school, performed efficiently as they completed the first leg of a double. These sides meet again at Derby tomorrow in a three-day Second XI Championship match, which, if Northamptonshire win, will make them only the third county to have achieved the double, after Middlesex and Surrey.

The appearance of the former England all-rounder Phil DeFreitas in the Derbyshire line-up did not please the host side. While Derbyshire were perfectly entitled to field him under regulations which stipulate no more than three capped players and no more than three players over the age of 25 (emphasising the push to younger Second XI squads), there were mutterings that it was not in the spirit of the competition.

His class was apparent, and if, as Derbyshire maintained, he was in the side to give the younger players the benefit of his experience, then it worked. DeFreitas treated them to an object lesson in batting, hammering 58 off 75 balls.

But, apart from Matthew Cassar's gritty 42 and a more cautious innings from Tim Tweats, no one on the Derbyshire side could manage to master the home side's attack. When Northampton began their assault, Graeme Swann (46) and David Roberts (31) rattled along at five an over.

On Graeme's departure his younger brother Alec took up the cudgels and won the Swann-upping, as it were, with a fine unbeaten half century, to help steer Northamptonshire to victory with two overs to spare.