Cricket: History made by Hawks

Leicestershire Foxes 152-7 Hampshire Hawks 17-2 Match abandoned

CRICKET HISTORY was made in the 32nd over of the match at Leicester yesterday. It was then that the Hawks, thanks to the over-stretching left- foot of John Stephenson, conceded the first no-ball of the CGU National League to the Foxes. Play, if not time, stopped while the import of this was digested.

Aftab Habib, the non- striking batsman, sauntered down the pitch to have a quick word with his partner, Dominic Williamson. You did not need a doctorate in lip-reading to know that he was saying: "Right, give this next ball some leather."

The next ball, because of the illegality of the one which preceded it, was the first free hit in English professional cricket. Whatever Williamson did he could not be dismissed unless he was run out. He stepped back and lashed it in the air past backward point. There, it eluded Matthew Keech and went for four.

Thus was the first example of the most significant innovation in the new league enacted. Williamson and Stephenson, of the Foxes and Hawks respectively, teams formerly known as Leicestershire and Hampshire, will appear in the records for all time, their names ineradicable because of the part they played.

That aside, there was not much to write home about in this initial fixture of the glorious new competition, which may or may not prove to be the cricketing equivalent of singing and dancing on the tables.

Perhaps this was because it was a grimly cold day, perhaps it was because it was not the most apposite of matches to be selected to inaugurate the new competition, perhaps it was because fewer than 1,000 of the Leicestershire public had bothered to turn up and many of those who did were queuing up at the face-painting stall.

There was also the small matter of a rugby match involving Leicester Tigers under a mile away. That drew a capacity crowd.

Or, just possibly, it was because the competition, if not necessarily the cricket played in it, is ill-conceived. The two-division league is the successor to the Sunday League, which had begun in 1969. By way of changes other than splitting it into two, matches are to be played over 45 overs.

This is a monstrous hybrid, possessing neither the hit and giggle virtues of the 40-over game or the slightly more serious but still potentially entertaining attributes of the 50-over contest, which has become accepted as the norm in most parts of the world.

The jazz and the razzmatazz are the things, the cricket is but a side show. Although Grace Road was bereft of them yesterday, all counties are to be encouraged to have theme tunes for individual players. And, apart from the face- painting, Sky Television were in town, to emphasise the importance of the occasion.

It is grossly unfair to draw too many conclusions after one match which did not run its full course. But it does not augur well that Grace Road was chosen as the venue for the first one. Lancashire, one-day kings, or Kent, at the beautiful St Lawrence ground, would have been more fitting choices. Both play today.

But at least the ECB is seen to be doing something, it seems to be aware that cricket cannot survive on its own considerable merits. Or can it?

Rain was all this auspicious fixture needed. Leicestershire's innings ended after 40 overs at 152 for 7, during which both Ben Smith and Darren Maddy batted attractively and athletically and allowed you to wonder why neither was given a proper opportunity in the England one-day side before the World Cup. Hampshire, needing 172 to win under the scoring method, were 17 for 2 when the festival ended prematurely.

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