Cricketer's Diary: Keeper runs the gauntlet

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The Independent Online
THE thing about Essex is their variety. There are bowlers and batsmen for all eventualities. Gooch and Stephenson to assault the quickies, Prichard and Hussein to upset the spinners, a left-hander, Knight, to muck up people's line. Then there are high, over-the-top, angry bowlers (Foster), wobblers (Gooch, Pringle), right and left- arm seamers (Topley, Stephenson, Ilott), off-spin and left-arm round. England's bowling attack looks staid in comparison.

But what really wins Championships is engine-rooms. The one at Essex begins and ends with Mike Garnham. The former Leicestershire wicketkeeper retired to set up a business in hand-made gauntlets. He was lured back when David East had injury problems. His batting buzzes with energy and an infernal 'yeah, yeah' call to his partner for a quick single. Shunning a helmet, he personifies the cocky demeanour that makes Chelmsford such a daunting place to visit for cricketers and shoppers alike. It was ironic that Garnham's first head injury should be sustained keeping wicket rather than batting while lidless.

Garnham's talent was given, not made, Peter Such was not so lucky. But he has made himself into a competent all-round cricketer, in the way Derek Underwood did. Originally a bloodhound with the bat (he comes in after the rabbits), he has developed a sense of adventure, while still managing to keep his feet inside the return crease, that has had his team cramming the dressing-room balcony in wonder.

Once a lumbering fielder with feet at 10-to-two, he's now swifter, with a strong arm and safe hands. And he's become more adept at taking wickets than bowling maidens. Essex are less fun to play against than they were in the day of Pont and Hardie, but, then again, that may be because they are now better cricketers rather than poorer comedians.

FOR at least 15 years now, Clem Driver has dotted and crossed the Essex scorebook and performed all those other scorer's duties: calculating over rates, totting up averages for those that want a daily update to the nearest decimal point (Dean Jones always wants to know how many balls he's faced), handing out team expenses, collecting players' valuables for safe keeping. A scorer making his debut this summer for Ickenham CC went one better. He collected up the wallets, watches and rings of both sides, took them towards the box in a grip, then vanished and hasn't been seen since.

While he's on the plane to Monte Carlo, or at least in a taxi to Harrod's, those other mainstays of the cricketing infrastructure are not so fortunate. I'm talking of Ron, Barry, George, Ted, Chris and the rest - the dressing-room attendants. It's a shoddy job cleaning up the discarded strappings, fag ends and newspapers of the players, never mind fetching them tea, coffee, lunch, beer and forging their autographs on bats.

But at least Ian Mackintosh can be usefully employed repainting the Lord's pavilion interior, having ferried daily supplies of towels, biros and Lucozade to the Middlesex players all summer, whereas Steve Wright, Durham's new handyman, is returning to the place where he was in March - the dole office. It is hoped he'll be able to dine out on his experiences as Ian Botham's head waiter for a while, but the number of people from county cricket collecting Giros looks set to break all records this winter.

AN ASIDE to the great ball debate. It is widely acknowledged that the lacquer on the new Reader balls used in county cricket stops them swinging. Some experts have countered this by saying that it is because bowlers' actions have declined. In a club match last week, I opened the bowling with a different grade of ball, highly polished with no lacquer. It swung out of control. I think I prefer no swing to too much.

Simon Hughes, of Durham, composed his column while sharpening his fingernails after a relatively fruitless day in the field at Taunton.