Fate bails out all-round hero

Stephen Brenkley reports on a curious incident that helped England's cause
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FOR Dominic Cork, cricket at present is as elementary as waiting on tables. "Another couple of wickets, captain? Right away. That'll be no problem . . . A diligent half-century, you say, skipper? Happy to oblige."

He was there again, at Old Trafford yesterday, delivering precisely to order, this time in the sumptuous shape of a maiden Test fifty. Cork has made only one of these in the County Championship for Derbyshire this summer, and here was further evidence of the long-held suspicion that he is a big-game player. The biggest hurdle nowmay come in the once burly form of the man who is now a team captain on the television programme A Question of Sport.

England have been involved in an obsessive search for a successor to Ian Botham since the moment his powers waned. Many good players, admittedly with less appropriate names than Cork, have failed to stay afloat under the pressure of such expectations. One of them, Darren Gough, is at home in Yorkshire now licking wounds, both real and metaphorical, having been built up and knocked down with equal rapidity. Gough has spirit unquenchable enough to come again; Cork is left with the strain of sustaining his momentum.

Not that it seems too much of a strain. Without wishing to fan flames hardly yet lit, he might just share one key element of a cricketer's make- up with that Question of Sport chap - luck. Before he had added to his overnight three yesterday, Cork dispatched the fifth ball of the first over from Courtney Walsh towards the extra-cover boundary. He then bounded off, but, in doing so, it was soon to emerge, dislodged his leg stump bail. He and Mike Watkinson ran four while the West Indies concentrated on retrieving the ball. The bail was on the floor by the stumps, significant but unnoticed. If Cork spotted it he wasn't saying and it was only as Walsh prepared to bowl again that the umpire Dickie Bird at the bowler's end spotted the errant bail. As it was being replaced, the West Indian captain Richie Richardson appealed, though nobody noticed that either. The umpire Cyril Mitchley turned it down without recourse to the third umpire. "I didn't realise what had gone on," Cork said later. "After we'd run four, I saw the bail on the ground and thought Junior Murray knocked it off."

Law 35 is quite specific on the matter: "The striker is out hit wicket if, while the ball is in play, his wicket is broken with any part of his person, dress or equipment as a result of any action taken by him in preparing to receive or in receiving a delivery, or in setting off for his first run."

This requires eye-witnesses, and on the field they were in short supply. As though nothing had happened, Cork went on with brazen confidence. Cork is a product of the A tour system - and a good one. He has been on four of them. It might have taught him how to play the longer game for in his way he personified his side's performance. England have played with a Test match plan and not something that might have been cobbled together for a 50-over bash.