Cricket: Showtime for Chapple the destroyer

England's forgotten man has the chance to climb back in the frame at Lord's today.
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WHEN MOST of his Lancashire team-mates are in Australia, Bangladesh or South Africa and Zimbabwe this winter, the man who recent experience says is the county's most likely matchwinner in the NatWest Trophy final today will be in Burnley.

Glen Chapple could be excused for feeling a little bit like the odd man out, the stay-at-home Cinderella, at Old Trafford this week. No less than eight of his team-mates - including a couple studiously ignored for years - who will be on duty against Derbyshire at Lord's are in one of England's various tour parties. But Chapple, Lancashire's leading wicket-taker in Championship cricket this summer, as well as the destroyer of Essex in the same final exactly two years ago, was conspicuous by his absence when the squads were named.

He is philosophical about his winter at home. "It's not the biggest disappointment," he insists. "I've been on two England A tours and done well. They probably think that now it's going to do a young player more good."

At 24, Chapple is not exactly an old player. "But just because I was on the fringe for England at 21, that doesn't mean I'm going to get picked. There's only 11 people can play, but if you get it all together at the right time you've got a chance," Chapple says.

And two years ago, of course, Glen Chapple famously got it all together at Lord's. He was close to unplayable that day, taking 6 for 18 as Essex were mugged for 57. "I've had a few days like that, but there's a bit of a difference when you do it in a final at Lord's rather than a cold, wet day in Durham."

Contrary to the popular mythology of late season finals, Chapple, who had not always been sure of his place that season ahead of Steve Elworthy, did not get much obvious assistance from the elements that day. "It was cloudy in the morning and it swung around for the Essex bowlers," he recalls. "Then the sun came out and I thought: `This could be hard work'."

It turned out to be more like pure pleasure. "A big cloud came over and it was the atmosphere more than the pitch that gave me any help. That was a great day but this is a new game and I've got to put all that to the back of my mind and get on with doing the job.

"You know that, when you've done it once, you can do it again. Whether it will happen again on such a big stage in the final of a competition is another matter."

This season Chapple has shown just as good an appetite for the day-to- day treadmill of the county Championship as he did two years ago for cup final scalps. His 40-plus wickets at around 20 apiece represent a bigger contribution to the cause than Peter Martin's haul, or Ian Austin's or even Wasim Akram's. Coming after a disappointing, injury-affected season last year, it emphasises that he is a player back on song.

And, when you are chasing three trophies, you need plenty of those, but Chapple says that he and his team-mates are feeling little strain as a result of fighting on three fronts.

"We are dealing with it quite well. No one seems too tired. Maybe it's because we've had a lot of rain-affected games. We haven't played all that much cricket, but we've still won a lot of games in run chases.

"Of course, the Championship is special because we haven't won it for such a long time, but we're treating each competition as equal priorities. You can't put any trophy above any other trophy."

That makes for a uniquely pressurised last month of the season, with the NatWest final closely followed by the two AXA League games that could give them that title. Then there is barely time for a sharp intake of breath before the two matches that could give them the Britannic Assurance Championship.

After all that, the prospect of a quiet winter in Burnley does not seem too bad at all, Chapple says. "There might be an offer to play cricket somewhere, but I'm not sure that if I went away it would do me much good. I stayed at home last year and I think that's helped to keep me fresh this season. Besides, we start pre-season training at the start of December."

Not much time, then, for speculating on what might have been in foreign parts. And, as he says, it is important to push past glories firmly to the back of the mind and concentrate on the job in hand.

Still, when Chapple gets the ball on Saturday, he will know that he is back in the setting where devastating bowling gets you noticed - and that he has already proved that he is capable of producing exactly that.