Cricket: Last laugh of the Luddites

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COUNTY cricket's venture into the brave new world of computerised scoring failed to get off the mark as quickly as expected yesterday, writes Rob Steen. At 11am the British Telecom line at Fenner's was out of order. At The Parks it had not even been installed. Luddites were spotted dancing in the streets, waving pens and scorebooks with defiant glee.

Lucky, then, that the opening two first-class matches in this season of change were seen purely as trial runs, an attitude reflecting with rare precision the questionable status of the host teams, Oxford and Cambridge University.

'For us,' said Tony Warner, the development director at Computer Newspaper Services, the firm contracted by the Test and County Cricket Board to supply the service, 'the season starts with the Benson and Hedges Cup preliminary round on 27 April. This is just a rehearsal. We deliberately agreed not to supply newspapers at this stage because of that.'

Warner admitted to having had 'a few harsh words with BT'. This, unsurprisingly, 'had the effect of getting men up ladders'. Happily, all the information recorded before normal service was resumed - after four balls at Fenner's, lunchtime at The Parks - was stored and not a single delivery lost. That said, intermittent power failures forced the Cambridge and Derbyshire scorers to call in battery reinforcements for much of the day.

What may worry CNS more than BT's inefficiency is a vote of confidence from the TCCB that would have unnerved any football manager.

'We are totally confident that the basic concept is a very good one and that it will work,' said Ken Lawrence, the Board's spokesman. 'I have already sent out a memo to Board members advising them that there is no reason for any doubts.'

All the same, Warner sensibly denied the possibility of the CNS service having a blip-free existence. 'Anyone expecting us not to make mistakes,' he conceded, 'is living in Cloud-Cuckoo Land'.