Cricket: Fordham finds the right note

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Leicestershire 208-7

Northamptonshire 211-2

Northants win by 8 wkts

THIS was the sort of final that left the uncommitted observer with a more pronounced hunch than Old Father Time. Next time, the authorities will know better, and make it a private behind-closed- doors argument at Wellingborough or Ashby de la Zouch, although if a neutral venue is deemed to be a fundamental principle, there is a village in Norfolk by the name of Great Snoring.

The lucky ones were those who worked out that they could watch six Leicester City football matches or 12 Northampton rugby games for the price of a ticket, and gave it a miss. The rows of empty seats, and the one-sided nature of the contest, left Lord's registering a decibel level that could scarcely have been lower had it been hosting the the Noise Abatement Society's AGM.

In keeping with modern trends, the Test and County Cricket Board has decided that one-day audiences are incapable of surviving a meal break without the unbearable excitement of parachutists descending on to the outfield, although they have yet to catch on (as the Australians have) that pulse rates can be persuaded towards danger levels by tossing in dancing girls, mobile discos, and frisbee-catching whippets.

However, you can have all the gimmicks in the world - make the players dress up in funny hats and red noses if you want - but a one-day match is nothing if the cricket itself bores the pants off the audience, and Saturday's NatWest funeral did precisely that.

The lopsided nature of the game was not, on this occasion, down to the pitch offering generous assistance to the team bowling first, although it would be incorrect to say that losing the toss had no bearing at all on the September final being won by the side batting second for the 16th time in the last 19 years.

Batting first on these occasions makes even a confident side, as Northamptonshire were, nervous, but it is liable to send a nervous side, as Leicestershire were, into trauma. By the time they had stopped twitching, two of their best batsmen had run themselves out, and restorative though a partnership of 130 between James Whitaker and Phil Robinson undoubtedly was, it occupied so many overs that they finished with a hopelessly inadequate total for a side so thin on bowling resources.

It was an achievement for Leicestershire to have made it to Lord's at all. In recent years, there has been considerably more activity at the player-exit gate than the spectator-entrance turnstile at Grace Road, and if they could have posted a teamsheet containing the names of D I Gower, C C Lewis, P A J DeFreitas, and N G B Cook, it might have been a contest to stir the blood as opposed to one that barely disturbed a corpuscle.

The lean years can be traced back, despite winning the 1985 Benson and Hedges, to the premature sacking of Roger Tolchard as captain in 1983, and a steadily declining graph of morale that was not halted by two summers under the team management of Australia's coach, Bobby Simpson.

They have also been comparatively dormant in attracting players. These two clubs might be separated by 45 minutes down the A50, but they are a good deal further apart in wage scales, and the fact that Leicestershire have competed with enough spirit this year to be in with a shout of place money from the Championship, is a tribute to the leadership qualities of their 37-year-old captain, Nigel Briers.

Three years ago, Briers was in danger of having his contract terminated, and it was only when the club made out a shortlist of possible captains, and realised there was only one name on it, that Briers was deemed essential rather than surplus to requirements. Since then, he has re-kindled dressing room spirit and struck a rich vein of personal form, but a member of the magic circle he is not, and on Saturday it all went wrong for him.

As the players congregated for the pre-match dinner on Friday night, Vince Wells, one of their key one-day players, suddenly keeled over. Wells spent the weekend in hospital where, happily, the diagnosis appears to be a viral rather than a cardiac problem, but it meant that Briers was suddenly without a player from whom he expected 12 tight overs and runs at No 5.

He had not planned to risk David Millns, who had in any event added a back strain to his ankle problem, and Leicestershire were in such a rare flap that they sent SOS flares up to the BBC commentary box for Jonathan Agnew and Peter Willey. Agnew declined, but Willey dashed over to the TCCB office to get himself registered, before Millns finally decided he was OK to play.

OK was just about the extent of it, however, and with Winston Benjamin experiencing an off day, and Justin Benson's fly- paperhands at slip letting him down twice, Northamptonshire were not required to dip into their powerful batting line-up any lower down than No 4.

Alan Fordham, who has extended the Gooch-style backlift to something resembling a raised periscope, underlined his reputation as one of the best attacking batsmen in the country, and the match ended, in eerie silence, with 10.2 overs unused. Allan Lamb, whose ball-tampering allegations are still rumbling on, then pulled off a unique Cup final double by collecting a winners' cheque (for pounds 27,500) and a writ for libel from his former team- mate, Pakistan's Sarfraz Nawaz.

(Photograph omitted)

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