Cricket: One day at a time for Connor

Iain Fletcher finds the Hampshire bowler enjoying the twilight of his career
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The Independent Online
HOW lucky the Hampshire faithful are that Cardigan Connor is a man fuelled by pride and integrity. He played only five first-class matches last year, his benefit year, and knew that his days as a professional cricketer were numbered - his body was politely telling him so. To bow out then would have been acceptable to many, but not to him.

"I'm 37 now and recurrent injury has taken its toll," he explained while contemplating Tuesday's NatWest trophy semi- final. "I had a knee operation in 1996 and last year I felt my body telling me to give up but I had always prided myself on my fitness and I didn't want to leave the game as a crock. Besides, so many good people had supported me in my benefit and through my career that I wanted to give them something more back in return."

Protected from the rigours of the four-day game this year, he has done just that by helping propel Hampshire to the brink of a Lord's final with incisive spells of seam bowling. It is not so much the quantity of wickets that matters in the one-day game but who they are, and this is where Connor has excelled.

In the second round against Essex, the holders, he dismissed Paul Prichard, Nasser Hussain and Stuart Law in the first over of the innings. In the quarter- final against Middlesex he added the scalps of Mike Gatting and Owais Shah.

All of those batsmen were potential match-winners, which demonstrates the influence that Connor has had on Hampshire's run to the semi-final. Not that the wide-grinning Anguillan accepts it as such.

"There is a good bond at the club, Robin [Smith] works on it and that helps success," he said. "It was good to take the wickets, especially against Essex. In the dressing-room we talked about how to bowl at those three, in particular, because they were the main threat and they only lasted five balls, but we all have to play as a team.

"I'm lucky because I bowled at the other end to Malcolm [Marshall] for many years and he always had a plan," he continued. "Now he is our coach and it is just the same, we go on the field with positive ideas."

Connor also had ideas at the start of the season. He wanted to reach 1,000 first-class wickets and beat Trevor Jesty's county record for wickets taken in the Sunday League. The latter is already achieved but the former might never be, as Hampshire are wisely prolonging the life span of their talismanic servant by restricting him to the one-day competitions.

"At the start of the season we were worried about my fitness and we really played it by ear," he explained. "It's worked so far and if we get to Lord's it could be the time to retire, on a high, but the strength of my performances is teasing me. You know you have to go but you don't want to miss the sense of occasion that sport gives."

It is a dilemma and one that Connor knows will have to be addressed sooner rather than later, but for the meantime he is concentrating on Tuesday and earning a chance to emulate the Lord's triumphs of 1991 and 1992.

Hampshire have reached three finals previously and won them all, so should they win on Tuesday the omens are good. "I have very good memories of the finals," said Connor, "special occasions and to win at Lord's is a great feeling, it's the best place there is."

Whatever this year's outcome, Connor's future is in Anguilla, coaching the local schools and running a gym at an exclusive hotel. "I'm lucky to have lived the dream but when I go it is good to know that the youngsters are coming on," he said.

"Dimitri Mascarenhas and Giles White recently were capped and there are others developing. The club is moving to a new pounds 16m complex with a golf course in a couple of years and these youngsters are going to keep the club progressing."

Connor, like the present ground, will go, but the affection in which he is held by the supporters will ensure that his memories of Hampshire will stay with him. Maybe NatWest Trophy winners in 1998 will be the latest.