Cricket: History sneers at those who fail to coin it

Cricket Diary
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The Independent Online
USELESS tossers is, of course, an expression with wide-ranging implications when applied to England cricketers. As it happens, it remains almost as pertinent when it refers to what they do when a coin has been flicked in the air and landed in their favour.

Inserting the opposition is fashionable in Test matches. It has been done twice in the first two games between England and South Africa. South Africa chose to bowl at Edgbaston and proceeded to play the whole match with their backs to the wall, England did similarly at Lord's and lost inside four days.

Nothing, it seems, will dissuade captains from taking the step and thereby ignoring history. It is not as though they do not have sufficient warnings. There is, for a start, the old adage that on winning the toss a captain should always bat, and if he has doubts, he should think about it and still bat. If, however, he is still unsure he should ask his vice- captain and senior player, and if they suggest bowling he should then bat.

Then, in the case of the present rubber, there are the tossing figures. Alone they are enough to coerce any skipper into thinking that the other side of the coin is the wrong one. But, no, they think they know better and take into account such specious matters as pitch conditions and the likely strength of the opposition attack. Simple research could have led them to a different decision. Of the 112 Tests between England and South Africa, England have won 47 and lost 21. England have won 59 of the tosses to South Africa's 53. Of England's wins 24, ever so slightly more than half, have come when they won the toss.

But they have invited the opposition to bat on only eight occasions and they have won only once. That was the first time of asking back in 1895- 96 when George Lohmann, one of the best medium-paced bowlers who ever lived, took his wickets tally in a three-match series to 35.

On seven occasions since, when Lohmann has not been in the side, England have drawn five times and have now lost twice. The first defeat on inserting was in 1930-31 when they went down by 28 runs. That was the first match (of three) in which players of Norwegian and Greek extraction, Eiulf "Buster" Nupen and Xenophon Balaskas, played. The one-eyed Norwegian took 11 wickets in the match.

There was neither Scandinavian nor Athenian at large at Lord's, but Allan Donald, who looks fairly Nordic, and Shaun Pollock, who could be a rampaging Viking, were all Greek to England. By contrast, South Africa have also inserted on winning the toss on eight occasions and have won twice, both in 1927-28. Not since. But of the 10 matches played between the side since South Africa's isolation ended captains have chosen to bowl in four of them. Outcome: three draws and a defeat. Captains may yet learn to give a toss.

ON the day that Test matches ceased to be a protected species and it was declared that in future they will be allowed to run wild and unfettered on any old television channel that has the dosh, the BBC's thinking became clear.

Radio Five, the waveband of sport if not the home of Test Match Special, summed it all up. Referring to the impending government announcement, a presenter on the breakfast programme, missing the truth but perfectly capturing the perception, said: "Well, nobody under 40 watches cricket any more."

RADIO FIVE and their cheeky chappy ought to have been at Fenner's later that day. The old ground is 150 years old this year but what was of far more importance was the presence of a multitude of schoolboys, of 10 and 11, from King's College.

To a pupil they gathered round the South Africans, there to play British Universities, for autographs. There was a frisson when either Jonty Rhodes or Paul Adams appeared. To a player the South Africans obliged.

It was a perfect cricketing day (though not for the universities) marred only by the public address appeal for the return of the South African cap belonging to the tourists' vice-captain, Gary Kirsten. It went missing when he put it down in front of the pavilion to dry during a break in his unbeaten double-century. Presumably, he could have avoided the cap's departure had he only followed the time-honoured custom of batting in a helmet.

BOOK MARK

"The gap between county cricket and Test cricket may not be as wide as the gap between club cricket and county cricket, but it is far more difficult to bridge. We have seen men who have been brilliant in county matches fail dismally in the tense atmosphere of Test cricket. My belief is that one Test is not a fair trial. For every man whose work in county cricket justifies his being given an opportunity in Test cricket there ought to be three trials... the fact is that it is difficult for a man to forget that thousands of eyes are fixed on every move he makes."

Words of comfort, one hopes, for Glamorgan's prodigious opener, Steve James, tipped to join the one-cap wonder club, from another opening batsman, Herbert Sutcliffe, as recounted in For England And Yorkshire in 1935.

Silly Point

SCOTLAND won their first match in the NatWest Trophy on Wednesday at the 16th attempt - the country's cricketers have made the second round of the NatWest more often than the footballers have made the second round of the World Cup. Graeme Hick (right), of Worcestershire, follows Geoff Boycott in being the only man with 100 first-class centuries to his name to be in a county team losing to a non-Championship side in the 60-overs competition. Bruce Patterson, Scotland's opening batsman, completed a double of sorts. He is the only man to have scored a century on first- class debut (for Scotland in 1988) and to have been in a winning NatWest Trophy non-Championship side.

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