Cricket: Humphries provides a hint of history

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Staffordshire 217-7; Devon 54-2

WHEN Devon resume their 10- year quest to win the Holt Cup for the first time here today, the name of Mark Humphries, the Staffordshire wicketkeeper-batsman, will still be ringing in their ears. They need a tantalising 164 from 31.3 overs for victory.

Humphries thrashed 18 off the last over in last year's final to beat Devon by four wickets and this time, he made a dashing unbeaten half-century, with three sixes, one carrying 90 yards, and four fours, from only 29 balls.

History repeated itself and Staffordshire would settle for that on- going situation. Last summer, they became the first county to achieve the double and are already assured of a place in the championship final, also potentially against Devon, or improbably Wiltshire, at Worcester on 13 September.

Staffordshire, admirably led by Nick Archer, have become, almost stealthily, the Essex of the minor counties' circuit, their traditions still include producing eight Test players since the war and, in recent years, two of their quick bowlers have graduated to first-class level, Paul Taylor with considerable success for Northamptonshire and Dean Headley for Middlesex.

Humphries, a No 8 batsman, had been to the crease only twice for them this summer, such has been the command of their upper order. Steve Dean, a schoolmaster at Denstone College, was less authoritative than usual but made 58 with the combination of five fours, two twos and 34 singles. He also faced 76 scoreless balls.

Keith Donohue returned a worthy 3 for 47 and Devon fielded athletically with Charlie Pritchard, capped by his county before the match, taking two catches. One of them dismissed Simon Myles off Mark Woodman. Staffordshire lost four wickets for 13 runs in 31 balls in mid-innings before Humphries and Paul Newman added 52 from 44 balls for the seventh wicket.

After opting to field, Devon ran the gauntlet of all teams adopting that limited-overs policy in late summer. They risked batting in the dark and did so until heavy drizzle set in at 6.45pm. Nigel Hackett, fast left-arm, had removed Nick Gaywood, an opener with three championship hundreds this season, and Steve Willis but Nick Folland, the Devon captain, now on Somerset's books, is the major obstacle to Staffordshire.