Rain 19 not out, B&H stumped

The Benson and Hedges Cup, which was revived this season after apparently reaching the fag end of its existence, sank further into the realms of risibility yesterday. Abandonment of all three scheduled group matches in the competition brought to 19 the number in which there have been no result.

The Benson and Hedges Cup, which was revived this season after apparently reaching the fag end of its existence, sank further into the realms of risibility yesterday. Abandonment of all three scheduled group matches in the competition brought to 19 the number in which there have been no result.

Of the 35 ties supposed to have been played by now, only 10 have managed the full distance of 50 overs a side because of the relentless rain which has swept the country since the tournament began eight days ago. The early-season knockout cup, ditched last year, was restored for 2000 at the insistence of the counties despite more neutral voices who saw it as a one-day tournament too far. Perhaps the latter will now claim that this is God's way of suggesting that you should never try to re-light a dog end.

The interruptions have caused understandable frustrations among the affected teams. The Leicester coach, Jack Birkenshaw, said: "It's a good competition but it's become a joke. This is no good for English cricket or for Benson and Hedges. It should be played later in the season."

His sentiments were echoed precisely by the county's captain, Vince Wells, who has now presided over one victory, one defeat and two dreaded no results. "It's too early for it," he said. "It's one of the major competitions and a lot of sides are going to go out through no fault of their own."

This has been the worst-affected summer of the 28 in which all the first-class counties have participated. Last year, under a bizarrely revised structure, only eight competed in a so-called Super Cup based on the previous season's placing in the Championship.

The weather has all but killed off Middlesex's chances of reaching the quarter-finals. If their match at Canterbury tomorrow is cancelled they will have neither bowled nor received a single ball in the competition. There were hopes they could actually go through with the five points such a scenario would bring them - each team is awarded a point in no-result games - but that is now a lost cause.

The southern group has been hardest hit by the rain. Only three matches have been possible. Four have been played in the Midlands, Wales and West group while the North division has escaped relatively lightly. The opening stage of the tournament reaches its climax tomorrow with all the teams due to play.

Leicestershire are at Old Trafford and must win while hoping other results go their way. At least they are still in contention. Nottinghamshire were eliminated after yesterday's abandonment.

Most of the attention was directed at Chris Lewis, who was telling anybody who cared to listen that he would be making his return to the Leicestershire side. Lewis dropped out of a Benson and Hedges tie last week after being grilled at Lord's over his newspaper revelations that he had been told [by a bookie who was trying to involve him in match-fixing] the names of three England players who had allegedly accepted money in the past.

Lewis apart - and Leicestershire continued to hold to the line that it was nothing to do with them and was a matter for the England and Wales Cricket Board- the only point of amusement on another hopelessly grim day also concerned match rigging. In the May edition of The Cricketer, page three is full of the story of the Hansie Cronje scandal.

Directly underneath, in an unfortunate juxtaposition, is a story saying that the magazine, in association with a company called Sports Adviser, is launching an exclusive betting advice service. Sports Adviser, it says, had a profitable winter (in England's Test series). Among other successes, apparently, it sold Cronje's runs spread (he was in the lists to make 230 and scored only 102), "bringing you advice from some of the top experts in the business."

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