Cricket: Gong with the wind for the toiling bowlers: Scyld Berry reflects on injustices in the man-of-the-match business

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The Independent Online
WHEN Hampshire meet Kent in the Benson and Hedges Cup final next Saturday, a fair and open contest is in store. It is true that the side batting second will be more likely to win - seven of the last 11 finals have been won by the county batting second - but this is not a gross imbalance.

The contest for the man-of-the- match award, on the other hand, will not be so open. Far and away the most likely winners, on the Hampshire side, are Tony Middleton, Paul Terry or Robin Smith. If it is a Kent player who receives the gold award, it will probably be Mark Benson, or Trevor Ward, or Neil Taylor, along with Carl Hooper and Matthew Fleming.

One has every sympathy for the argument that man-of-the-match awards should have no part in a team game such as cricket. They have been a source of tension in other countries, as in India, where some have played for considerable prizes instead of their team, or when Sir Richard Hadlee wanted to keep a car he had won in Australia rather than share the proceeds of its sale among his team-mates.

However, county cricketers have long since removed this source of tension by putting man-of-the- match awards into the team pool. These prizes have become a talking point among spectators and followers of the game, as well as another promotion vehicle for the sponsors of the competition. Everyone interested in the outcome on Saturday will want to know who has won the Gold Award.

It is therefore only right that these man-of-the-match awards, both in the B & H and the NatWest Trophy competitions, should be adjudicated fairly. But are they? The evidence suggests not, for there is a bias to the point of outright discrimination against specialist bowlers, while wicketkeepers for the most part need not apply.

The list of leading award-winners immediately gives this game away. Opening batsmen have a head start, especially if they can bowl a bit of medium pace, to the extent that eight of the top 13 are openers. Graham Gooch has won 20 B & H awards; Barry Wood and Mike Gatting 11 each; Kim Barnett, Chris Balderstone and Ian Botham 10 each; Geoff Boycott, Gordon Greenidge, John Edrich, Andy Stovold, Chris Tavare, Allan Lamb and Clive Rice nine each.

By way of contrast, Malcolm Marshall, who will be playing in his first cup final for Hampshire on Saturday, has won one Gold Award. Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose have not won any. Three of the most effective English bowlers since 1972, when the B & H began, have been Derek Underwood, John Lever and Neil Foster. The first two won two each, Foster three.

Of the 949 awards so far, 30 have gone to wicketkeepers - presumably mainly for their batting in the cases of David Bairstow, Roger Tolchard and Ian Gould. Steve Marsh makes up nine per cent of the Kent team, and Bobby Parks nine per cent of the Hampshire team, but on Saturday there is a less than three per cent chance of the award going to either keeper.

Allowances do not seem to be made for the fact that bowlers can only do their job for 11 overs. Jeff Thomson, during his half-season for Middlesex in 1981, took 7 for 22 in a B &H game against Hampshire - and the Gold Award went to the batsman who top-scored with 69. The sponsors could save themselves the cost of hiring an adjudicator in many games, for the award so often goes to the maker of the highest score - even when the result has virtually been decided by the bowlers in the first hour.

This tendency is damaging, for its effect on perceptions of the game. Cricket has always been primarily for batsmen: look at the list of knighthoods, or listen to the county scores on Radio 5. Honourable mention will be made of Snooks, who has laboured to 43 not out by lunch on a flat old pitch, but not of Smithers who has taken two wickets.

Nowadays, moreover, it is not only honour but money which is going to the batsmen. An average-to- good county batsman can expect to make 20 years of salary out of the game, and take not only one benefit but a second or a testimonial. On the other hand, such is the wear and tear on a pace bowler, not only of bowling but of one-day fielding, that he is doing exceptionally well to have a career half as long.

Contracts for endorsing equipment increase the inequality. A leading England batsman makes pounds 20-30,000 a year for advertising a bat manufacturer. But who wants to pay Devon Malcolm to use a bat, or a ball?

Given this trend towards honouring and enriching batsmen, at the expense of bowlers and wicketkeepers, the point will come - if it has not already - when the intelligent all-round youngster sits down with his career adviser and comes to some conclusions. He could well see pace bowling as an unrewarding, unglamorous pursuit, and decide to abandon it in favour of batting.

Whenever Dennis Lillee bowled, he had to take pain-killing tablets every morning before the start of play, every lunchtime and every teatime. In return for the extra physical strain, the least a bowler deserves is the odd gong.