The Oval Diary: Three men of Durham, two caps and one piece of history

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The Independent Online

The number is actually three if you count - and you must, if Ricky Ponting is to be believed - Gary Pratt, who has once more been used as 12th man here. Pratt's deadeye- dick running out of Ponting in the Fourth Test has had huge repercussions, which may lead to a change in regulations.

His presence is the more galling for the tourists since he cannot gain a place in Dur-ham's team and has been summoned purely because of his class in the field. Last week- end he played club cricket. Dropped in the slips early on, he went on to make 123.

When Durham became a first-class county, England had been without the Ashes for three years. Nobody could have predicted the influence they would have on them coming (almost) home, and it is possible that if the club's introduction had been rejected none of Harmison, Collingwood and Pratt would have played county cricket.

Shame of the shires

England have regained the Ashes at The Oval three times before, in 1926, 1953 and 1985. If they were to do so this time they would have used in the clinching matches (obviously) 44 players (excluding Pratt) from 15 of the 18 first-class counties.

It is tempting providence to say so, but nine have been provided by Middlesex, six each by Surrey and Yorkshire and five by Kent. Only Middlesex and Kent have supplied representatives in all four matches.

The three counties who have not provided a single player in any of the years are Derbyshire, Worcestershire and Glamorgan. Perhaps they should be docked most of their annual £1.3 million lifesaving handout from the England and Wales Cricket Board. Glamorgan, stop carping at the back about Simon Jones's injury.

Brothel creeper

The seven-second microphone delay rule had to be invoked on TalkSport's lively, almost live cricket show, fronted by Chris Cowdrey, the other night (The Diary awaits the fee for its appearance back in July).

This sleight of hand and timing allows for lewd comments to be excluded. During a discussion on Geraint Jones's inclusion in the England side, fans were asked whether his runs outweighed his wicketkeeping lapses. "No," said a chap from Manchester, "he couldn't catch clap in a brothel."

The book maker

To coincide with the match, a book has been produced called The Oval Reflections. Large, heavy and handsomely mounted, with the odd misplaced caption - which should not happen at £25 a pop - it tells a decent, often stirring tale without being too gross a paean to the ground's sponsors, Brit Insurance.

Written by David Norrie - who makes the profound observation that photographic research has shown that "it is not The Oval that really changes, it is the faces, the haircuts, the clothes, the hats, the cars!" - it will also test the sturdiness of most coffee tables.

Through a gauze darkly

Sports reporters, like Australia captains, should know better than to whinge. However, the dreadful new press box at The Oval, which entails looking through two opaque gauze nets, could have spawned the phrase, often heard by The Diary's drinking companions: "You must have been watching a different match."