Farewell to startling thuds of May

Cricket Diary
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This is the first summer in nearly a quarter of a century that no side will undergo the horrific experience of being nedded. The man who invented, polished and had exclusive lifetime rights on the process has sadly departed the first-class game. Without him, it is impossible to execute.

To be nedded meant simply to be flogged to all parts, whatever the bowlers bowled or wherever the fielders fielded, by Wayne Larkins, the former Northamptonshire, Durham and England batsman. He was known to everybody in cricket as Ned and the sobriquet gradually became synonymous with the way he played.

The first team to be so treated, though they would not know it then, were Essex in 1975. The young Larkins had struggled to make an impression in three seasons of irregular appearances in the Northants team until he went out to bat at Chelmsford one day in late August with the score at 21 for three. He and Mushtaq Mohammed put on a county record 274 for the fourth wicket.

Throughout the Eighties, neddings burgeoned and in Larkins' four seasons at Durham he was still equipped to exhibit the method, which combined violence with rapidity. Last September, he was released after scoring a century in the final match of the season.

"I thought I was good enough to go on a bit but others thought differently," said Ned last week. "You've got to go some time, I knew that but I hadn't given any thought about what I was going to do. I didn't miss pre-season training but I miss the camaraderie and the game.''

He has joined the North Yorkshire side Richmondshire, as professional, and will play in the Minor Counties for Bedfordshire, his birthplace. So far, the bowlers have emerged unscathed ("they're a bit slower than I'm used to and I don't think bowling generally is as good as it was") but some frightful afternoons are surely lurking.

There is a slender chance that he could yet play again. Kent made an approach about his availability and though he had already committed himself elsewhere he gave them first refusal.

Larkins, 42, is obviously enthused at the prospect of a return, no matter how brief, though it may deprive him of a peculiar honour. Durham's decision to release him means the man who gave his name to a variety of batting is also one of few players to have a scored a first-class century in his final innings. This is one of the few cricketing achievements not to have been fully researched and there is no definitive list.

Garfield Sobers, for example, scored a hundred for Nottinghamshire in his final match, but not in the second innings. One who did manage the feat was John Jameson, now assistant secretary of the MCC, for Warwickshire in 1976. This is not bad company for Ned to keep.

Some time this week the first Whyte & Mackay Rankings of the season will be issued. These are the tables which rate individual performances in all competitions, are fascinating to read, but still leave you wondering how they were calculated.

They combine contribution, whether runs or wickets, with state of the match and quality of the opposition. The figures are fed into a computer which is programmed to work out how many points should be awarded. It is possible to get a maximum of 50 points for either batting or bowling in one game.

This is far more complicated than actually playing the game and last year the computer, thankfully, still came up with Mark Ramprakash as the leading batsman and Dominic Cork as the top bowler. The award sponsors balanced the computer's omniscience by sending its master blender, Richard Paterson, to present the five-figure cheques.

Paterson knows everything about whisky and, being a Scot, almost nothing about cricket. His job took him to India recently and he confessed that when he saw players like Sachin Tendulkar being treated as idols he had to ask why. Obviously, Paterson could not replace the Whyte & Mackay computer but maybe he has a future running the English game.

Pinch hitters, as described elsewhere in these columns, are quite the fashion. They come, of course, from baseball where the role is fundamentally similar, a hitter substituting for another batter in the order. They were so called because they were used in a pinch (for the first time 100 years ago), when a game probably depended on their effectiveness. To continue the pop image perhaps cricket could plunder baseball again and come up with bench jockeys, platoons and sacrifice flies.

Giantkilling has been familiar by its absence in the zonal rounds of the Benson and Hedges Cup. Not even the Minor Counties have come up with a victory this season as they did, for the sixth time in 58 matches, in 1995. It is seven years since the Combined Universities won an unprecedented two zonal matches and qualified for the quarter-finals when their captain was a chap with a future, Michael Atherton.

One-man stand

Essex man Graham Gooch should soon move into the top 10 in the all-time list of run scorers. During his century against Hampshire last week, Gooch rose to 12th place, overtaking Colin Cowdrey on 42,719 and has Dennis Amiss and Tom Hayward (there since 1914) in view. Reaching ninth and Tom Graveney, however, will take some 4,000 more runs - perhaps three seasons. Don't bet against it.