Cricket: Survival in the lonely last over: Dramatic finishes provide one-day crowds with the drama they yearn for but, Simon Hughes asks, who wants to bowl the final six deliveries?

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The Independent Online
TRANSPORT yourself for a moment to the Pavilion End at Lord's. It is dusk in the Benson and Hedges Cup final and whether your team win or lose depends on how you bowl in the next three minutes.

For some absurd reason, the destination of limited-over trophies frequently rests on the last over of the entire competition. It is a scenario that delights sponsors and spectators but is dreaded by the players. The outcome of those final six deliveries determines whether you can buy the wife a new cappuccino machine or a new kitchen. Magnet in Derby would have done good business last week and all thanks to the unflappable efforts of one Frank Alexander Griffiths.

'Camera seven zoom in on Griffiths at third man,' barked the BBC producer during the penultimate over of last week's final. There he was on the boundary, face taut, eyes glazed, conscious of the responsibility. A slight tingling in the stomach, a moistness of the hands but probably unaware of the public glare, the millions of TV viewers, because he was focused only on the match and the job in hand.

I know, I have been where Griffiths stood several times. A cup final at the HQ of cricket, bowling the last over in dingy light, 11 runs to play with, everyone on the edge of their seats.

In fact somewhere every week, probably today at Hove or Portsmouth, there is the same equation - it is what the crowd have come to know and love about one-day cricket. They virtually demand it - their weekend fix.

There is extra tension in a final, but the enormity of the situation does not really sink in until the emotional fallout zone afterwards behind the scenes.

For the moment, there is a task at hand. I make three rules at this point. One, don't bowl a no-ball or a wide. Two, don't look at the scoreboard after every ball, it only tortures the mind further. Three, back yourself - remember the batsman is just as nervous as you. The MCC coaching manual contains no advice for such a predicament but the line and length theory can go straight out of the window. Any bowler knows that six balls speared in at the batsman's toes will be hard to manipulate.

Nothing, unfortunately, is foolproof. Derek Pringle achieved just this in the 1985 NatWest Trophy final, yet Derek Randall still managed 16 runs off the over. (Fortunately for Pringle the target was 18). In 1989, John Lever produced a perfect leg stump yorker last ball, but Eddie Hemmings somehow squeezed it past point for the winning boundary.

It is important not to let these images linger in the mind as you prepare to bowl. Think of the successes rather than the failures. Like the time Zimbabwe, only four wickets down, required just a single to beat Middlesex in the last over of a one-day match. John Emburey bowled a maiden. Or Norman Cowans whipping out the Essex tail in the 1983 final with just four runs needed.

One day cricket is harder than ever for bowlers these days. When the Sunday league began in the 1960s, slips and gulleys were de rigour, 140 was a good target and Somerset's Brian Langford once sent down his quota of eight overs without conceding a run.

Now there are fielding circles, the height of deliveries is restricted and batsmen perform all sorts of diversions from reverse sweeps to Dominic Cork's outrageous shimmy to flick an off stump yorker over short fine leg last Saturday. Bats are bigger and better too, though that is somewhat offset by the advance in fielding standards. Bowlers do have their own weapons - slower balls for instance - but these are a gamble at the climax, being liable to disappear over the sight screen. Better to be safe than sorry and settle for percentage - the main objective is to prevent the batsman getting his shot airborne.

Who are the bowlers to back in this last-over business? Austin of Lancashire, Connor of Hampshire, Emburey, and Winston Benjamin are my block-hole boys. After his heroics last Saturday, Frankie Griffiths deserves to be there too. Their analyses will not always reflect their prowess, but they tackle this ordeal for their team week in week out.

Success, and they can enjoy the sanctity of the dressing-room as the tension gives way to a surge of relief. Failure, and they may ask directions to the nearest trapdoor. Being at the nub of such limited- over equations is like facing fast bowling. Dangerous yet tantalising and exciting. It should carry a government health warning.

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