Cricket: Watkinson attempts double

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The Independent Online
Today's NatWest Trophy final at Lord's, in which Lancashire and Essex lock horns, abounds with sub-plots.

Mike Watkinson, the Lancashire captain, is attempting to emulate David Hughes in leading the county to victory in both one-day finals, an achievement unique to his predecessor at Old Trafford, who pulled off the double in 1990.

Ronnie Irani, the Lancastrian who migrated to Essex in 1994 and went on to become an England player, has the opportunity not only to rub some figurative noses in the dirt but also to clinch his place on the winter tours. Paul Grayson, a Yorkshireman exiled to Chelmsford, seeks retribution on behalf of his former colleagues, who were denied a trip to Lord's in July when Lancashire beat them in the Benson and Hedges semi-final only to suffer the same fate at the same stage of the 60-overs event.

And Graham Gooch, revelling in his status as the Grand Old Man of English cricket, will do all in his powers to mark what may well be his last Lord's final in the way he distinguished his first, in 1979 - with a century. There is no doubting which story would attract the widest appeal. In his 44th year, Gooch continues to set standards only a handful of English batsmen can hope to attain.

The former England captain has been playing himself in as a selector this summer but has still found time to score seven first-class centuries, the latest of which, against Warwickshire this week, raised his career tally to 127, one more than WG Grace. He will take the England A side to Australia as manager this winter and promises that the 1997 season - his 25th - will be his last, although it is through weariness of spirit that he plans to step down.

Having passed on the county captaincy and returned to fielding in the slips, Gooch says he feels and more confident in himself. His affection for Lord's is undimmed. "To play in a Lord's final," he says still, "is a dream, something with which not even World Cup finals compare."

But Essex, NatWest winners in 1985, will probably need a Gooch hundred if they are to prevail against the five-times winners Lancashire, who are dominating one-day cricket in the 1990s in much the same way as the 1970s. Although this is their first September showpiece since Hughes' double year, it is their seventh Lord's final in that period.

Darren Robinson, out recently with a broken finger, may return today, but should Gooch fail, Essex will look to Irani to compensate. He has a century and two 50s in this year's competition and will need no extra motivation, even though he insists he has nothing to prove to the county who chose to let his talent go.

But, perhaps crucially, Essex will miss Stuart Law, the Australian all- rounder who has served them so well but will be representing his country instead today in the Singer Cup final in Sri Lanka against the hosts. Law made hundreds against Durham in the second round and Hampshire in the quarter-finals, and it was his brisk 53 that provided the impetus for the semi-final win over Surrey.

Lancashire's depth of experience is unrivalled. Half of their line-up have played in five finals or more, led by the man who has made so many of these occasions his, Neil Fairbrother. But even if Essex can contain the most dangerous Lancashire weapons, they are just as likely to be derailed by Warren Hegg or Ian Austin, the Bensons match-winner.

There is the potential, even so, for a close-run thing, although the toss, regrettably, is likely to be as vital as any contribution on the field. The 10.30am start in autumn conditions almost always works in the bowling side's favour, and for the last 10 years the side batting second has won. Indeed, only three times in 22 years has that not been the outcome.

Lancashire (from): M Atherton, J Gallian, J Crawley, N Fairbrother, G Lloyd, M Watkinson (capt), W Hegg (wkt), I Austin, G Chapple, G Yates, P Martin, S Elworthy, R Green.

Essex (from): G Gooch, A Grayson, N Hussain, P Prichard (capt), D Robinson, R Irani, R Rollins (wkt), M Ilott, N Williams, APCowan, P Such, S Andrew, J Lewis.

Graham Gooch - Essex's national treasure; County reports, page 25

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