Lord's set for perfect match

Cricket; NATWEST TROPHY FINAL: Odds on a thrilling occasion as two brilliant one- day teams meet right at the peak of their form; Anil Kumble has spun his county into real contention, says Colin Cameron
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The Independent Online
MARTIN JOHNSON

Cricket Correspondent

"When I win the toss on a good pitch I bat. On a doubtful pitch, I think about it a bit, then I bat. On a bad pitch, I think about it a bit longer, and then I bat." Needless to say, WG Grace never played in a NatWest Trophy final.

Twenty three of the 32 September Cup finals have been won by the side batting second, and not since 1985 has the batsman receiving the first ball of the match gone on to receive something more exciting than a runners- up medal.

If the form book is any guide, Lord's will be a crucible of tension today, with supporters on both sides wracked with tension as the drama builds to an unbearable climax. And then comes the decisive moment. Someone calls heads, plucks out a souvenir stump, cartwheels all the way back to the pavilion, and the man of the match award goes to a 10p coin.

All too often this final avoids the old cliche of being about 11 against 11, and who does it on the day. More often than not, it has been one against one, and which unfortunate tosser fails to do it at 10 o'clock in the morning.

The pitch rarely has much bearing on the July cup final, although Warwickshire will recall one exception, in 1984, when a damp pre-lunch surface effectively gifted the Benson and Hedges Cup to Lancashire. It was also memorable for Peter May's man of the match award to John Abrahams, who did not bowl and scored nought. Afterwards, the losing captain, Bob Willis, said: "I suppose he got it for winning the toss."

It would be a dreadful shame if either of these sides find themselves labouring under an artificial handicap. Warwickshire and Northamptonshire are so evenly matched that given an even shake of the dice, one-day cricket's essential ingredient - a breathless, last-over finish - is a short-odds forecast for the Lord's twilight this evening.

Warwickshire's pedigree in this form of combat is such that they are appearing in their third consecutive 60-over final, and as a comforting reminder that not all NatWest finals are on a life-support machine by lunchtime, it was only two years ago that they conceded 321 runs to Sussex, and still won off the final ball.

On the other hand, Northamptonshire's last final, in 1992, was hard evidence that one-day cricket can make synchronised swimming seem riveting. Leicestershire were so hamstrung by injuries that they attempted to lure both Peter Willey (successfully) and Jonathan Agnew (invitation declined) out of the commentary boxes, and it became the sort of yawn inducing mismatch which left the uncommitted observer with a more pronounced hunch than Old Father Time.

This time, though, we have two teams at the peak of their form, with Northamptonshire's most obvious strength their batting, and Warwickshire's their bowling. There is not much in the fielding although, in Trevor Penney, Warwickshire possess a man capable of altering the course of a game with a couple of blinding run-outs.

The bedrock of Northamptonshire's batting has been the opening partnership of Alan Fordham and Richard Montgomerie, averaging 115 in the competition, while Rob Bailey has been in such sublime form that he has won the man of the match award in each of his team's last three NatWest games.

They also have Allan Lamb, who remains a formidable batsman in this type of cricket, and while the owner of a china shop would sooner have a bull in it than a Lamb, his lack of complication is a strength as well as a weakness. A deep thinker he may not be, but it was Lamb who was responsible for recruiting Anil Kumble.

Lamb's opposite number Dermot Reeve is a more analytical type, while at the same time so physically hyperactive he gives the impression of having been weaned on powdered Duracell. Reeve is rarely out of the action, and his powers of improvisation - with both bat and ball - make him not too dark a horse for selection in England's World Cup squad on Tuesday.

Warwickshire were favourites earlier this week, although those odds narrowed when Tim Munton, their vice-captain, pulled out yesterday with a side strain.Munton broked down after bowling only one delivery in the second innings of his team's Championship victory over Gloucestershire on Thursday.

There is a slight doubt about the all-rounder Dougie Brown, who has a cracked bone in his non-bowling hand, and Nick Knight is expected to play after missing the final Test match with a broken right index finger. There has never been a summer like it for cricketers getting plastered, as, in the more liquid sense, 11 more will be doing this evening.

Northamptonshire (from): A Fordham, R Montgomerie, R Bailey, A Lamb (capt), R Warren (wkt), K Curran, D Capel, A Penberthy, J Snape, A Kumble, J Taylor, M Loye.

Warwickshire (from): N Knight, N Smith, D P Ostler, D Brown, R Twose, D Reeve (capt), T Penney, K Piper (wkt), A Giles, A Donald, Wasim Khan, P Smith.

Umpires: H D Bird, M J Kitchen. TV Replay umpire: R Palmer.

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