Cricketer's Diary: Keep the batsman guessing

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The Independent Online
WEDNESDAY

Old Trafford - First Texaco Trophy one-day international. Last over equation - England require seven runs, Australia one wicket, Merv Hughes bowling.

'Bowl as fast as you can in the blockhole, and keep your fingers crossed,' Border told Hughes, who had not bowled for an hour.

The bristling quickie kissed the miniature blarney stone round his neck, tore in and did as he was told, respecting the fact that his captain had experienced such circumstances in at least half of his 255 one-day internationals.

In fact, such is the fine-tuning of a run chase, most one-day games go to the wire, and very often a Hughes is bowling the last over. So what goes through your mind?

First, remember that the batsman is as nervous as you are, second don't bowl a no ball or a wide. After that it's a lottery.

The tried and tested method is to spear in six leg-stump yorkers, but few bowlers outside Lancashire can achieve that, and anyway players like Robin Smith have evolved a method of going right back on their stumps and shovelling those over midwicket for four.

Sylvester Clarke used to unleash six throat balls at this stage, but that's been outlawed so Steve Waugh probably has the best formula - mix up yorkers with leg breaks, keep the batsman guessing so he can't set himself for one particular shot. Most fundamental of all, learn to be philosophical - whatever you try, doesn't always work.

THURSDAY

Torrential rain in Bristol - eagerly anticipated by Botham who seems to have a large cumulo-nimbus on a string - allows time in the pavilion to peruse the scorecard of cricket's highest individual innings: A E J Collins's 628 not out in a house match at Clifton College, 94 years ago.

After an early rush of boundaries, Collins scored most of his runs in ones and twos and details of his innings, which lasted four afternoons, are scrawled all over the page. No wonder he didn't make many scores afterwards, he was probably too tired.

FRIDAY

Watched entire Robin Smith century at Edgbaston, congratulating myself on bowling him into a bit of form last Sunday - well that's what we county cricketers are here for isn't it?

Smith's old routine of 200 press-ups a day certainly stands him in good stead, though I wouldn't bet on the likely outcome of a bout between him and the rippling Aussie left-hander Matthew Hayden, who competes in triathlons in the winter.

Fascinating discussion on TV during the interval between Tony Greig and Sir Richard Hadlee - over here on a speaking tour.

Hadlee suggested that some England players don't seem to exhibit the desire commensurate with representing your country. He is probably right - the majority of hardened pros subconsciously regard pulling on the three lions as just an extension of the season's ordeal.

SUNDAY

More convinced than ever that this year's new Sunday League format is a white elephant for the sponsor with a meagre crowd at Bristol.

Syd Lawrence's benefit collection raised only pounds 300, a poor show for someone who has huffed and puffed himself to exhaustion on Gloucester's behalf.

MONDAY

Visit the convalescing Leslie Crowther, past president of Lord's Taverners, reclining in his 18th century gazebo on a hill outside Bath. Eight months after his near fatal accident he is walking again, understanding perfectly, speaking slowly.

His remarkable recovery - through the amazing energy of his wife Jean ('Breathe, Les]' she would order at his bedside when he lapsed into a coma) and sheer willpower may allow him to attend a Test match soon. 'Why do England captains always have squeaky voices?' I ask, thinking of football as well as cricket. 'Because they all wear jockstraps,' he replies, pulling a silly face. Crowther is a living reminder of the Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Take Thyself Too Seriously.

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