Cricket: First class, but with too few honours

Cricket Diary
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The Independent Online
It is the 152nd University Match this week. History and a sense of occasion will hang heavily over Lord's but nothing will diminish the suspicion that the fixture is first-class in everything but performance.

Whatever the official status of the contest, or indeed of the matches against counties that Oxford and Cambridge have already played this season, nobody can sincerely believe that it merits such a rating. It is not only that wins against against counties are rare (or also against each other given the seven draws in the past 10 seasons), it is that so few of the players are properly equipped enough to be called first-class cricketers.

This might be unkind considering the background of the two places and that the University Match began back in 1827, some 37 years before even the most loosely formed of County Championships. Many of the participants are talented all-round sportsmen but the wider achievements, or rather the lack of them, of the majority of Oxford and Cambridge cricketers are unarguable.

Since 1963 when the distinction between amateurs and professionals, or gentlemen and players, was abolished and everybody became simply a cricketer there have been a total of some 363 Blues awarded for appearance in the University Match itself. Of these 186 have come from Cambridge and 177 from Oxford.

From this little lot there have come a mere 13 England players, 10 from Cambridge and three from Oxford. This may not be a bad return considering that both establishments are first and foremost seats of learning rather than cricket academies but the development of other players is not so spectacular.

Of the other Cambridge Blues, 49 have gone on to play county cricket. But further research reveals that this is not as auspicious an achievement as it seems. There were 19 of those who made fewer than 10 appearances for county sides, 13 who made more than 50, which used to be the qualification for the Births and Deaths section of Wisden and six who made more than 100. Oxford Blues came up with 41 other county cricketers, 12 of whom played fewer than matches, two of whom played more than 50 and four of whom played more than 100.

In the period since the revolutionary change of 1963 each side has won the University Match five times despite the presence of players who have since been wholly anonymous. But if you had pick a side to represent the whole 34 years you would put your money on the Light Blues.

The best Cambridge XI would probably be: J M Brearley (capt), M A Atherton, T S Curtis, J P Crawley, Majid Khan, P W G Parker, R A Hutton, P H Edmonds, D L Murray (wkt), D R Pringle, M W W Selvey. 12th man: I A Greig. If overseas Blues are disallowed Greig would come in together with R J Turner as wicketkeeper, with P M Roebuck, R D V Knight, S P James and D L Acfield coming into contention.

Oxford's somewhat less celebrated side might be: V J Marks (capt), P J K Gibbs, J E R Gallian, C J Tavare, J D Carr, Imran Khan, R M C Gilliat, D R Worsley, S C Ecclestone, P B Fisher (wkt), T M Lamb. 12th man: W S Kendall. If Imran was not permitted a game, Oxford should seriously consider not turning up

All in all, hardly international class, which nobody could expect, but for how much longer in this era of change can it be adjudged first-class?

THE number 187 is not at first glance especially pertinent and more detailed enquiries will not shed much light. All right then, 187 was the total number of runs accumulated by England's batsmen in the NatWest Trophy first- round matches on the day afterafter the Lord's Test.

The list read: Mike Atherton 8, Mark Butcher 0, Alec Stewart 90 no, Nasser Hussain 78, Graham Thorpe 0, John Crawley 11. After McGrath and Warne, Atherton and Crawley found Barrow and Marc of Berkshire altogether too much for them.

As for the bowlers, it was a slightly different matter. The laughing boys Darren Gough (46 and 7 for 27 against Ireland) and Robert Croft (64 and 1 for 14 against Bedfordshire) were clearly galvanised by their Lord's experience.

SINCE there was no opportunity of cricket last week, the Australians held a racquet ball tournament in their hotel gymnasium. Their young men did a lot of dashing about, their great wicketkeeper, Ian Healy, read their angles as easily as he does those of Shane Warne.

Book mark: " 'Do you know who he is or where he hangs out?' queries Abbott, quaffing half a pint in a single swallow. 'He begins to prey on my nerves. Could profitably be put down, I think, without any great loss to Public Relations'." As spoken in the endearing Three Men At The Match - A diary through the season by J R Finch, published in 1989 and which encapsulates perfectly the trouble with cricket's public address announcers when the rain arrives.