Cricket: Light Blues have the talent to darken Oxford's day

The teams in the 152nd Varsity match will be captained by players who went to the same school. Adam Szreter reports
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The Independent Online
The most ancient of international enemies might be about to lock horns at Old Trafford again this week, but the oldest first-class fixture of all is at Lord's tomorrow when Cambridge meet Oxford in the 152nd Varsity match.

While many would say it is well past its sell-by date, and that the first class status accorded to the universities is an anachronmism in this professional age, it has nevertheless been an encouraging season for both teams. Oxford enjoyed their first win over a county since 1993 and their first over Glamorgan since 1930, while Cambridge have lost only one of their seven county matches.

The Light Blues have had the edge since 1827 when it all began, but Oxford have been in control over the past five years, winning two games to one and posting a record 513 for 6 in the drawn match last July. This year Cambridge start marginal favourites by virtue of their stronger batting, led by Ed Smith who has been top of the national averages for much of the season following an outstanding 190 against the county champions, Leicestershire.

Another Cambridge batsman, Will House, will be battling with Smith for a place in Kent's team before the season is out, but if either were in need of guidance before then, they could do no better than their own coach at Fenner's, Derek Randall. The Varsity match might not quite compare with the centenary Test of 1977 in Melbourne, and Randall's heroic 174, but the former Nottinghamshire man is looking forward to tomorrow's match.

"It's a big game for us," Randall said. "I'm a little worried that we've missed so much cricket in the past month because of exams and the weather, but confidence is high and we're looking forward to a good contest. There's always a lot of commitment in the Cambridge side and we're very lucky in that we've three or four top-line cricketers who could go on and play for England."

In addition to Smith and House, Anurag Singh would be included in those three or four, but Singh, the captain, has not had the best of seasons despite a century against Essex. Like his opposite number at Oxford, Mark Wagh, Singh is a Warwickshire player and a product of King Edward's School, Birmingham.

The last time both captains came from the same school was 1989, when Mike Atherton of Manchester Grammar led Cambridge against John Crawley's elder brother, Mark. But Wagh is quick to play down any talk of personal rivalry clouding the main issue: "It's no more than with any other player," he says. "We've generally played in the same side and always wanted the team to do well, and whoever gets runs hasn't really mattered."

Oxford will be heavily dependent upon Wagh, who scored centuries in each innings of the Glamorgan match and added another against Somerset at the weekend. He is also a useful off-spinner, in support of the opening bowlers James Averis and Chetan Patel, who took a hat-trick against Hampshire earlier in the season.

Wagh himself is happy for Oxford to be cast in the role of underdogs. "I think Cambridge have got some very talented cricketers and they've got a lot of experience which is obviously a bonus at this level," he said. "But during the winter our guys invested quite a lot of time in this season, so this match means a lot to them."

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