One-day specialists are favoured by fixture planning and that cannot be to the benefit of the Test team

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The Independent Online
Northamptonshire's County Championship game with Gloucestershire this morning should produce two more wickets and success for the home side. With Warwickshire having already won, it is important. The title remains our priority, but it is also almost as crucial that we have not got bogged down chasing a Monday victory.

Tomorrow's Nat West semi-final against Yorkshire means a night in a hotel for the players. A long session in the field would have denied the squad a good eight hours' sleep after a delayed departure pursuing maximum spoils. Late departures disrupt preparation. I was involved in a Benson and Hedges semi-final in 1993 against Derbyshire and the preceding county game against Worcestershire went right to the wire the day before. We arrived at our hotel, which was less than perfect, very late and were never focussed on the morning of the game and got tonked.

Luckily for us, Yorkshire have been playing at Surrey so they face a long journey themselves to get back for the Headingley game. With Surrey's collapse on Saturday it should be all over by mid-afternoon, though. They will be fresh, too.

The travelling apart, Yorkshire were never going to suffer as greatly from the fatigue of a final day, whatever the state of the game. The contest was shaping up into a draw before Surrey collapsed. But the prospect of a long, drawn out fourth day would have caused the visitors less anxiety. Realistically, they are out of the running for the County Championship. Although this does not make Headingley closer to The Oval, it does mean they had the option of resting key bowlers.

It is a difficult one for the planners but, unless the Sunday League is axed, the semi-finals of the one-day competition will continue to fall immediately after the end of a four-day County Championship programme. This favours counties whose success is predominantly in the one-day game, which cannot be good for the Test team.

That said, it is easier for players to revert from four-day to one-day cricket than to do the opposite, particularly bowlers. For the seamers, the line and length come back a lot more slowly if they have been bowling yorkers to keep the score down at the end of a one-day innings. In contrast, the switch from a good length on off-stump to well up on leg is easier for everyone, spinners included.

At least the notorious Yorkshire wicket (remember, this is the eighth semi in a row in which Northamptonshire are away) should not be a factor. In the past, particularly in the 60 overs-an-innings tournament with its early start, a damp wicket has made the toss crucial, nowhere more so than at Headingley.

Keith Boyce, the groundsman there who retires at the end of the year, will not thank me for reminding him of the Benson and Hedges Cup quarter-final this May in which Yorkshire were all out for 88 against Worcestershire and lost by seven wickets. After the last couple of months of sunshine, the four captains involved tomorrow might even contemplate batting first.

For the winners tomorrow, there is, of course, a Lord's final to which to look forward. I think this year the chances of someone playing themselves into the touring team for South Africa on the back of a good performance in the showpiece are slim. Raymond Illingworth deserves to be credited with more sense than some of the past chairmen of selectors who have picked a player for Test duty on the strength of runs and wickets in a one-day slog, albeit a high profile, pressure occasion. Nevertheless, the NatWest is the cricketing equivalent of the FA Cup. It is a great day. Win or lose, an enduring memory.

Whatever the conditions tomorrow, they will be the same for everyone struggling to overcome the last hurdle. My prediction is for a Glamorgan v Northamptonshire final. If it is indeed the end for Warwickshire and Yorkshire, they will probably schedule the final for Harrogate!

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