On the Front Foot: Bateman's book a tour de force

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The Independent Online

Why anybody would want to cycle round England, stopping at the headquarters of each of the 18 first-class counties, may never be satisfactorily explained. It is simply the sort of thing that a certain kind of Englishman does, just because they are there, just for the hell of it. Two late summers ago, a group of six disparate pedallers performed this feat in 17 days, starting at The Oval and finishing at Lord's and calling at the 16 other grounds in between. They were assembled, if not necessarily always led, by Colin Bateman, the cricket correspondent of the 'Daily Express'. It took them a total of 94hr 17min to cycle a total of 1,099 miles. Bateman has now written a book detailing their exploits, called 'String Fellows'*, and if, by his own admission, he was rarely at the head of the peloton (until his cycling mates insisted he led them finally through the Grace Gates), his account deserves the yellow jersey. True, there is probably not enough cricket, but then you can have too much of a good thing. There are, however, some corking anecdotes picked up by Bateman on his way to becoming the doyen of the daily press cricket-writing corps. But it is more a tale of the relationships among the sextet, whose ages ranged from 19 to 71, over more than two teak-hard weeks, a description and potted history of small-town England and a shrewd assessment of the country as a provider of tourist services. Neither the ferryman at Symonds Yat, which links Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, nor the chap who runs Aysgarth Falls Café in North Yorkshire will be using Bateman's reports of their sniffy attitude in their promotional publicity. The epic tour raised £8,000 for two charities and deserved to be chronicled, if only because the 18 cricket grounds deserve to be honoured. 'String Fellows' is a strange title because it is really Six Men on Bikes but it is a gem for all that, as the sub-title says, "a cycling odyssey into cricket's heartland".

*'String Fellows' by Colin Bateman (Troubador, £12).

Frederick's fame remains

So Frederick Fane's record remains intact after 110 years. His score of 143, made for England against South Africa at Johannesburg on the tour of 1905-06, is still the highest by an Irish-born cricketer in Tests. It looked for long enough as though Eoin Morgan must overhaul it against Pakistan at Trent Bridge but he fell 13 runs short. Fane played 14 Tests for England and his innings at the Wanderers was his only hundred. It was also in a losing cause: the next highest England score was 36 and they lost by 243 runs.



Flat pitches equals flatline

In the sort of match which served as a suicide note for Test cricket, Sri Lanka scored 642 for 4 and India replied with 707 all out in Colombo last week. The sole point of interest, if it can be called such, was that Sri Lanka's total was not the highest Test innings to be overhauled. Last year in Karachi, they scored 644 for 7; Pakistan replied with 765 for 6. What a silly game.



Games are just not cricket

More trouble for India's Commonwealth Games, which coincide with Australia's tour of the country. To offset possibly catastrophic losses, the Games organisers asked the cricket board for a £22m donation. It was turned down.

s.brenkley@independent.co.uk

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