There is being featured in some of the glossy magazines a quite shocking advertisement. It shows in magnified, close-up colour a set of grimy, apparently nail-bitten fingers, clearly belonging to a horny-handed son of toil, holding a cricket ball on which the seam has been picked.
The last thing the game needs right now, you think as you look at it, is somebody going round seam-picking. This example is so blatant that even the International Cricket Council would be forced to set up an independent inquiry.
The hand, for what it is worth, belongs to one Sam Barker. But lest the ICC, in their newly acquired role as men of action, nip round to his place with the intention of banning him for life, they should first bear in mind that Barker is an actor whose right hand was specifically chosen for this job. The photograph - and we are talking deeply subliminal here - is for NFU Mutual Insurance (one of the few insurance companies yet to sponsor the game directly).
"We are trying to expand our services beyond the farming community and into rural areas generally," said Pam Swift of the NFU marketing department. "We are trying to use images which reflect the country and cricket is an essential part of that."
Unfortunately, there are sinister overtones, associated with what cricket has lately become. The copy on this particular advertisement is headed "robbery". The firm can cover you for it and the implication is that the hand holding the ball is capable of executing the crime in question. There is also a television advertisement, altogether more pastoral, featuring players from Middleton-in-Teesdale club, Co Durham.
"Cricket has reflected what we wanted to say for several reasons," said Pam Swift. The Diary will be keeping an eye for like-minded companies anxious to sell their products via the great game. What next, petroleum jelly being rubbed on the ball?
Talking of sponsors, back in the old days of 1995 when floodlit cricket in this country was barely a flickering candle there was something called the Axa Equity and Law League. By 1997, for reasons of merger and it being a mouthful, this great tourney had become the Axa Life League.
Not for long. In 1998 it was Lifeless - and some cynics would say that the whole affair had been a corpse for too long - and was merely the Axa League. Last year, of course, brought us the brand-new (with the added novelty of being played over 45 overs a side) CGU National League.
If this was not all-singing, all- dancing, it was pretty jazzy stuff. It seemed that it was to be with us this summer as well. The early fixture lists said as much.
But, no, on the eve of the season the CGU transmogrified into the Norwich Union, the result of another merger. See you, CGU. The Norwich Union (do pay attention at the back) should be around for at least two more years. Its advent prompted urgent action: shirts, hoardings and publicity material all had to be changed as well.
The first floodlit match of the most adventurous one-day season in English history will be at Hove next week between Sussex and Worcestershire. It still seems bizarre that Hove, sleepy seaside Hove, should be the home of the first permanent floodlights on a cricket ground here, but there you have it.
The match itself will be used as a dress rehearsal for the whizz-bang, one-day triangular international tournament later in the summer. Finishing touches have just been put to the musical package to be used. Outgoing batsmen are likely to be accompanied by some piece of pop music deemed appropriate. "Bye Bye Love" perhaps.
Incoming batsmen will have their own tunes. The Sussex captain Chris Adams has chosen "Stop" by the Spice Girls, Graeme Hick, in what may be a neat piece of irony (but may not) has opted for "Wild Thing" and Vikram Solanki, in what may be a plea to the selectors, has picked "Stand By Me".
IN 1873 the rumbustious Edward Pooley, Surrey's wicketkeeper, was suspended by the county for allegedly throwing a match in Sheffield which Yorkshire won by eight wickets. He may or may not have taken £50 to ensure defeat but Surrey quickly punished him, as recorded in a dry, academic biography of a lively, fascinating man, (His Own Enemy by the Surrey scorer, Keith Booth).
Pooley, an inveterate gambler who was also jailed in New Zealand on an England tour for beating up a man who welshed on a bet, and thus missed the first Test of all, was obviously a man before his time and was plain unlucky the ICC was not about then to let him off the hook.
Man in the middle
Matthew Wood had a Championship batting average of 13.66 last year. Considering that he is a batsman, "Wisden" was understating the point in saying "the season could not end soon enough" for him. It was a particularly bad case of second-season syndrome for Wood, 23, had an excellent 1998, scoring four hundreds, one a double, and averaging 45. On Friday he was no longer unable to see the wood for the trees. He scored 100no for Yorkshire and it was touching of David Byas to let him reach three figures before his declaration.Reuse content