Cricket: Such ado as Ilott and Croft face inquiries

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Glamorgan 301-8 Essex 303-9 Essex win by one wicket

The image of English cricket as a box of Milk Tray without the hard centres can seldom have come closer to being shattered than it has here over the last two days. But as both Essex and Glamorgan hold inquiries into the ill-tempered scuffle that marred the first day of this NatWest semi-final, there are those who feel the incident is little more than a by-product of playing hard competitive cricket.

One who clearly upholds that particular view is Stuart Law, Essex's Australian all-rounder and yesterday's man of the match in the home side's thrilling one-wicket victory.

"The incidents that have gone on in this match are part and parcel of the game back home," Law said yesterday. Speaking about the Croft/Ilott argy-bargy (which culminated in no more than a shove) he said: "We see it as two players expressing different opinions in the heat of the moment. They are not condoned, but as long as you don't see two blokes slugging it out, we tend to let them get on with it."

Unsurprisingly, it was not a view taken by the England and Wales Cricket Board [ECB]. In a statement from Gerard Elias, the QC who is chairman of the ECB's discipline committee, the board have asked the two counties to carry out inquiries. "Both counties are prepared to do so," Elias said. "And will hopefully issue a result by the end of the week."

With Elias vice-chairman of Glamorgan, that seems to imply some fairly tough action and both players can probably look forward to a fine in the region of pounds 1,000.

In a week in which England lost the Ashes to Australia, there have been several diatribes over first-class cricket's lack of spine, not least by Nasser Hussain, whose column this week, in a national newspaper, described the county game as "All matey and lovey dovey."

However, speaking yesterday, as acting captain of Essex, Hussain felt that the tie with Glamorgan was one of the hardest fought domestic cricket matches he had played in.

"Both sides were desperate to win," said Hussain, one of leading contenders for the England captaincy, should Michael Atherton decide to step down. "We need to have games like that as the excitement will bring more people to the game.

"In fact the more you play in games like that, the more likely it is that a player can step into a World Cup final and be prepared for it. When I said we needed to be tougher, it was more a mental thing, nothing to do with verbals or fisticuffs. I accept we can't have pushing and shoving going on. But after a long hot day, I feel it was an incident that people made a little bit of a deal of."

Predictably, reaction to the match, particularly to the scuffle at the end when Ilott appealed against the light, has been split between the hysterical (the tabloids) and those willing to shrug it off (the players.)

The incident comes at a bad time for Lord MacLaurin's blueprint, particularly the highly supercharged one-day league, which will now be prey to all those who feel one-day cricket breeds obnoxious behaviour. To make that league financially viable, MacLaurin is hoping to sell the league to television. However, television is what made the incident the ogre it never was, and what would have merely elicited an "Ooh" from the crowd in an untelevised match, has been replayed until its protagonists grew heads.

As Ilott pointed out after he and Croft had made up with a big hug on the pitch: "Will someone please tell my mum it was nothing more than handbags at 10 yards. She thinks I've committed a crime against the state."

With play recommencing half an hour late after heavy overnight rain, Essex, needing six runs to win, took three from the five balls remaining of Waqar Younis's ninth over. But the drama heightened when Tim Hodgson, a recent graduate from Durham University, edged the first ball of Darren Thomas to the keeper Adrian Shaw.

With three runs still wanted, Peter Such, Essex's No 11, strode to the crease. The previous evening Such had joked that if he got to the middle he would either be a chump or a champ. With the help of one of Graham Gooch's old 3lb bats and a low full toss, it was the latter, as Thomas's fifth ball was sent scuttling for four, and Essex were back at Lord's.