Cricket: French in triumph of intrigue: Scyld Berry reports from Worksop on the complexity and curiosity value of a fledgling European cricket competition

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TODAY'S final of the European Cup will be between France and Germany, two adversaries who have met before, if not at cricket. And the background to their latest contest was as full of intrigue and tension as any of their previous encounters.

In cricket terms, the 10 countries competing in this second European Cup are minnows. However, when the time came yesterday evening to working out the places for the final, after four rounds of qualifying matches, it became a competition of towering complexity. In the end France got through on run-rate, by 0.98 of a run.

Germany, on the other hand, were sure of a place in the 40-over final, provided they avoided a batting collapse against Austria at Clumber Park yesterday. On a rain-sodden pitch the standard was surprisingly high. It is a safe rule of thumb that the more cricketers of Pakistani origin one of these countries has the stronger it is.

Germany, with plenty of wristy Asian batting, scored 159. Their medium pacers and spinners then dismissed Austria, with not so many Asians, for 97. Austria had been in with a chance themselves having won the first three of their four qualifying games. But then they are not the first people to have been in Sherwood Forest and felt themselves robbed.

France, meanwhile, played Portugal at Ranby School but it might as well have been at Versailles. They do not have any players of French origin, but a little Gallic cunning was not beyond them. Led by an Oxford chap who played for the university once, they wanted to hire a mobile phone to hear the scores from the other vital games. Nobody in the European Cup office knew the score at Ranby, yet 'the French' kept ringing up to find out about their rivals, particularly Switzerland.

The weather then took a hand, as the showers delayed France's game and allowed them to follow the progress of Switzerland v Greece on the Worksop College 'B' ground. The Greeks are everyone's favourites, the only all- indigenous team, Corfiots to a man. They speak a lot and rapidly, wear blue sweaters which suggests floodlit cricket now exists in Corfu.

Greek batting, unfortunately, is a bit dodgy, as they are used to an artificial pitch at home which is so slow that it disguises bad techniques. Yesterday they collapsed again to 113 all out and although their fielding was enthusiastic, Switzerland knocked off the runs in exactly 12 overs.

That meant Greece lost all four of their games, and although they have a captain called Misfut, they should not be discouraged.

Switzerland, mostly Asian, had therefore made a powerful bid for a final place. But the calculating 'French' worked out the rate at which they had to defeat Portugal. And they got their sums exactly right by scoring 185 off 21.9 overs to edge out Switzerland. In the first European Cup, won two years ago by the hosts, Guernsey, Switzerland missed out on a semi- final place by one tenth of a run.

One might have thought that the European Cup would have been organised by the International Cricket Council, the world body of the game. Not at all: the Cricketer magazine and the European Cricket Federation have done it.

The ICC, and the MCC before it, have enjoyed the sight of Europeans being Anglophile but have done little to encourage them. Yet on the evidence of this tournament, Europe could put together a team of minor county standard, if it included the cricketers of Denmark and the Netherlands who are considered too good to be here (as are Guernsey after their 1990 triumph).

Admittedly European cricket has a high Asian element at present, too high for some, and the eligibility of various non-natives has been questioned. But a combined European team, could, in future, play three-day first- class games in England in August on those festival grounds wanting to replace the games they will lose next season. Such a side would be the equal of Oxford or Cambridge, if these things are decided on merit.

(Photograph omitted)

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