Cricket: Michelin men back treading the boards: Season opens against the familiar backdrop of overwhelmed undergrads as Afford affords a glimpse of his art

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The Independent Online
Cambridge University . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .144

Nottinghamshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36-1

IT FAILED to rain but in most other respects the season's opening day went as expected here yesterday. The bails blew off after 15 minutes, Dickie Bird shuffled and shook his feet to keep warm, and the students suffered the first batting collapse of the summer.

Cambridge, now shorn of last year's Horatio, John Crawley, were put in on a green wicket and dismissed 40 minutes after tea, for 144. Their opponents, who were so wrapped up they resembled a Michelin Man XI, then eased within 108 runs for the loss of Paul Pollard.

With five freshmen and one first-class hundred between them - Russell Cake's against Australia last summer - Cambridge were always likely to struggle. So it proved but, given the conditions, they did slightly better than expected.

The openers, Cake and Garri Jones, survived a difficult first hour in putting on 41; nine wickets and 70 runs later, the final pair, Fraser Cooke and Mike Bashforth, added a spirited 33. In between, however, there was much evidence for the abolitionists of the universities' first- class status with three ducks and several poor shots.

Notts' decision to insert, going against custom, suggested their captain Tim Robinson is more interested in beginning a testing season with a win than in batting practice. This match is so early they have yet to play any one-day warm-ups and the bowlers' rustiness was evident. The openers, encouraged by some sharp lift, notably from the pavilion end, pitched too short too often even if both Cake (gloved to third slip) and Jones (popped to short leg) were finally dismissed that way.

Better control was demonstrated by Andy Afford, whose left-arm spin brought three wickets, including two in a spell of five maidens. Given the chill wind - which meant the milk hung out in cartons by the fridge-less students of the overlooking flats was more likely to freeze than spoil - the numbness in his hands made the effort all the more creditable.

The other wickets were shared, with two for Bobby Chapman, son of Sammy the former Nottingham Forest footballer, doubling his first- class haul in his second match. Trevor Jesty, making his umpiring debut, ended the innings with his first lbw decision and also accounted for the departure of Pollard. Notts should already have lost Mark Crawley, who was badly missed at deep backward square leg by Bashforth off Chris Pitcher.

Crawley is one of four players competing for the sixth batting slot at Trent Bridge; Wayne Dessaur and Graeme Archer will have their chance today. Still awaiting his debut is Matthew Dowman, a double- centurion for the under-19s against the West Indies last summer. Given that the other 200-maker in the series, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, was busy in Barbados yesterday, his omission rather supports the view that young English players are not given their chance early enough - unless they play for Cambridge that is. That, given the subsequent progress of Mike Atherton and John Crawley, is the cricketing argument for retaining these matches.

(Photograph omitted)

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