Sticky start in a new slice of history

Cricket Diary; nursery end
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The Independent Online
Alamgir Sheriyar began his career by becoming only the second English player (after the Yorkshireman Herbert Sedgwick in 1905) to take a hat-trick on his first-class debut, for Leicestershire. He may have gained a somewhat wider reputation before a large television audience last summer when he bowled 13 wides against Hampshire in a NatWest Trophy tie which his new county, Worcestershire, lost by 125 runs. Happily, all appears restored in Sheriyar's world and on Friday the 23-year-old left- arm seamer continued a sterling season by taking a career best 6 for 19 as Sussex were skittled for 71 at Arundel. He also took 4 for 44 in the second innings. Sheriyar will be relieved about his progress. Sedgwick, after his spectacular start, played only two more matches.

English cricket has always wanted to have its cake and eat it. Never has this desire been greater. The confection in question, this time, is for real: the England Cricket Cake no less.

This splendid creation was rushed into the shops after Australia were vanquished in the First Test and is both edible and edifying. Of course, despite the advent of the England and Cricket Wales Board, it wouldn't be English cricket if everything had gone smoothly. "Yes, we've already loads of cricket fans on the phone," said Mike Barrett, marketing director of Elisabeth the Chef, the Leamington Spa firm who manufacture the moist genoese sponge filled with raspberry cream and buttered cream and topped with a cricket ball, broken stumps and the ECB logo. "We've sent them free samples."

The trouble has been not the cake but its packaging. This contains logos of each of the 18 first-class counties and no fewer than 15 ECB crests, in case anybody doubts who has licensed it. Excessive maybe but so far, so good. Unfortunately, the photographs are not so precise.

The central image of Dominic Cork is perhaps unfortunate but at the time the box was printed few could predict that he would not play this season. However, it might have been wiser to avoid showing the left-handed Nick Knight (also out of the Test side) batting right-handed and the right- handed Alec Stewart batting left-handed.

The cake, available at pounds 6.99 in Sainsburys and, naturally, in Tesco, given the former job as its chairman of the ECB chairman, Lord MacLaurin, is nonetheless selling at around 1,000 a week. This is only slightly fewer than the company's Premier League football cake but about eight times fewer than the Manchester United cake. "Our big push will be in World Cup Year, 1999," said Barrett.

At the home of cricket on Thursday, an unexpected group of cricketers brought their brief tour of England to a close. The party of young men, most of them 15, none older than 16, were taken into the Long Room and on to the hallowed turf.

It was an exciting culmination to the visit by the team from the Langa township in Johannesburg. Their trip did not attract quite the publicity of the Australian tourists but it may have been a seminal part of their cricketing development. Some may be back at Lord's one day as South African Test players.

The Langa tour was under the auspices of the John Passmore Trust, whose founder helped to establish a cricket pitch in the black township in the early Seventies. It was prompted last year when Ian Maclure, retired prep school headmaster and old boy of Winchester College, visited South Africa.

Winchester provided the final opposition of a rain-hit tour in which Langa won one of their nine matches, against Dorset under-15s. Their outstanding player was probably their right- handed opening batsman, Mfusi Nonkonyane, and their enthusiasm for the game was no better demonstrated than at 6am one morning. The boys were being billeted with familes, one of whom happened to have a bowling machine in their back garden. They were surprised to be woken by their guest practising his forward defensive.

In 127 Test innings (after England's first at Old Trafford) England's captain Mike Atherton has now recorded 37 scores in single figures. Such a proportion may not be out of the norm for an opener facing the new ball but Atherton has begun to extend his failures in the first innings of a match.

His five on Friday was the first time that he had not reached double figures in three successive first innings. But he still averages 46.43 in first innings compared to 32.35 in second innings and, despite his justified reputation for match-saving obduracy, only two of his 11 hundreds for England have been made in the second innings.

This season was heralded as Dickie Bird's last on the first-class umpires' list. Not, almost certainly, so. Dickie reaches the mandatory retirement age of 65 next 19 April. By then, if recent years are anything to go by, the first-class season will have started, thus allowing him to continue, as is his desperate wish, for one more summer. But he will have to wait. The ECB's fixtures supremo, John Carr, can do nothing until the revolutionary changes planned for the game are announced on 5 August. If Oxford and Cambridge Universities, who usually start around 12 April, are deprived of first-class status, Dickie may have umpired his last.

Book mark: "Be dedicated and believe in your ability. Also, have an ambition and always strive for it. As a bowler, be positive and always believe you can get the batsman out." So speaks Tony Pigott, chief executive and chief selector at troubled Sussex, in Coaching Tips From The Stars by David Scott in 1990. Clearly Sussex's opposition (they have been dismissed for 54, 67 and 71 in consecutive Championship innings) have been reading it.