Cricketer's Diary: Keeping the spirit intact

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The Independent Online
WEDNESDAY

First competitive match of the season for Durham, a Benson and Hedges tie against the Minor Counties at Hartlepool. Plenty of apprehension because the wicket is damp giving the amateurs' trundlers an advantage. Ian Botham settles a tight match with a couple of leg-side sixes. He is a bit Jekyll and Hyde at the moment - a mite contemptuous of the practice matches (you can hardly blame him after what he's achieved), fiercely competitive in a real contest. After the match, the umpire, Peter Willey, uses the players' showers. 'When have we got you again then, Will?' Botham asks. 'June, Gateshead Fell, against Middlesex. But you'll have lost interest by then.' Everyone laughs. The team spirit has stayed intact through a winter of post-mortems.

THURSDAY

Team spirit sorely tested by the realisation that the four of us house- sharing in Darlington (Paul Parker, Phil Bainbridge, Chris Scott and me) have come out without a key. Anxious moments as we take turns to shin along roof in darkness and pouring rain to reach open upstairs window.

FRIDAY

Practice match against Derbyshire with white balls and coloured strips. Both teams are in the same colour which seems to defeat the object. Also, so much static generated by polyester fabric, you half expect to see diving fielder hit the ground in a shower of sparks. White ball extremely visible and apparently easy to bat against

Derbyshire's cosmopolitan attitude to player recruitment knows no boundaries. In the past five years a Kenyan, Zimbabwean, New Zealander, Australian, various West Indians and a Dane have been signed, they now have Amritash Agrawalla, an Indian leg-spinner educated in Scotland. They look a good bet for a one- day competition; Allan Warner took a hat-trick, I'm saving mine for a proper match.

SATURDAY

Pilkington Cup final, Twickenham. A former Scotland international enters Harlequins' bar brandishing a card advising his selection for Five Nations match against England in January 1946. Dated the previous October, it requests that 'the player should bring white shorts and socks, towel, soap and morning dress. If you are unavailable, just send the card back.'

MONDAY

Middlesex v Australians, Lord's. Two things emerge. One: the game attempts of Norman Cowans and Angus Fraser to regain hostility after long- term injuries seem to be unrewarded. Four years ago they humbled the Australians here, now they are being milked. Two: what is the advertising slogan on the grandstand balcony 'Relocate to Newport, Gwent' going to achieve? I spot great old Middlesex scorer Harry Sharp still perched over scorebox. So rumours that he was retiring because he couldn't cope with new computer system are unfounded. It's a relief as Harry's views are much sought after when he returns to the pavilion for his Scotch at the end of play; 'Not a bad day' is the summit of his comments, mumbled through a relit cigarette. He always reserves the greatest praise for a rapid Gatting 100. 'Brutal, bloody brutal,' he would say. Today Gatting has run himself out, stared daggers at his partner, then stormed off disfiguring dressing- room door and his own forearm in annoyance. I'm quite impressed with Australians' batting but not with Lord's food - Tavern fare as unpalatable as ever. Finally threw away sandwich and ate plastic wrapping.

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