Cricketer's Diary: Titans' final clash upstaged

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The Independent Online
Wednesday

SOPHIA GARDENS, Cardiff - usually a ground patronised only by a handful of redundant miners - for once bedecked in colour and atmosphere with a capacity crowd for the last clash of the Titans: Richards and Botham. The confrontation instantly emptied all the marquees as the all- rounder strode in, interrupting their sorbets, but he soon obliged with a couple of straight sixes. Matthew Maynard upstaged them both later with a classy hundred. He must get a chance for England soon, he's better than all those mid-life challengers like Rob Bailey, John Morris, and Alan Wells. The increasingly inebriated crowd resorted to abuse - 'Sumo, sumo' at Botham, 'Baldy' at me - when Glamorgan gradually took control, which only makes losing worse. 'Oh well, we're out of the NatWest,' said a downcast Botham, 'but at least it means now I can make a commercial for about 20K.'

Friday

TWO sad pieces of news. Hampshire's Jon Ayling has been forced to retire and Tony Wright is standing down from the Gloucester captaincy. Ayling had persistent knee trouble which was obvious from the loud grunt emitted every time he delivered the ball, but was undeniably talented and a striker of withering power. The six he hit in the Benson and Hedges semi-final cleared the practice area at Southampton, a monster. He had that extra streak of desire, too, which distinguished him as a fierce competitor, though he was most affable off the field. A hard act to replace.

Leading Gloucester, you always have to be on the look-out for snipers. There have been all sorts of comings and goings at Bristol in the last five years, and Wright had an unenviable task quite apart from shoring up a brittle batting order. One prominent player has not helped his cause, and so poor old Courtney Walsh has had to pick up the pieces. Expect a few green flyers at the Phoenix Ground from now on.

Saturday

BENSON and Hedges final. Have never realised this before, but the Lord's pavilion boasts the best examples of facial hair in the country. It's protruding out of everywhere - ears, noses, eyebrows - at times surely it obscures their vision. Maybe Godfrey Evans - still roaming about with the latest odds at major matches - could be their mentor. Wasim Akram's beamer stirred them, of course. We will never find out whether it was deliberate - let's hope it wasn't - but there are two opposite arguments. No 1: Even for a bowler of the quality of Wasim it is very difficult to bowl an accurate beamer at top speed. No 2: on the other hand an attempted yorker should not go this drastically astray. I must have tried to find the blockhole at least a thousand times but I can't recall slipping in a beamer. The BBC Wales commentary team wouldn't have had much of a view of it anyway. They were stationed out of sight behind the Radio Three boxes, among the kitchen extractor outlet pipes. A much better position for describing smells than scenes.

Sunday

AN England XI has lost to the Netherlands. Well what can you expect when you are obliged to field three teams simultaneously (another in Swansea versus Wales, a third at Hove against the Rest of the World). And the Dutch doctored the artificial wicket. It was watered overnight and played like a sticky dog till mid- afternoon. They're not easy to bowl on either - usually your back foot lands just at the point where the grass ends and the matting begins. No such excuses at Grace Road, where Leicestershire's match with Surrey was abandoned due to a substandard pitch. Batsmen were hit in the grille and on the body and after 45 minutes everyone called it off. All sorts of people were muttering 'It wouldn't have happened in our day' and maybe they're right, perhaps we have gone soft. It's a useful precedent, however. Next time some team are 100 for 0 and belting our bowling attack around I might just consider lobbying the umpires with the 'pitch too flat' complaint. I wonder what our run-drunk batsmen will think of that?

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