Tests can allow youngsters to wear their Sunday best

INSIDE CRICKET
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The Independent Online
Test matches are great opportunities for young Second XI players to take advantage of the absence of their county's best players when they are called up for international duty. They can end up filling in and gaining some important first-class experience away from the spotlight.

This season I have already been impressed with Richard Green, a young Lancashire all-rounder who took eight wickets and scored a couple of fifties against Northamptonshire last month. He has played a bit of first-class cricket for his county and must be hopeful of more when the likes of Atherton and Martin - Fairbrother and Watkinson too? - are on Test duty.

For all the criticism it gets, the Sunday League, between the third and fourth day in the County Championship fixture, is a good place to blood a player like Green, who has shown some Second XI form. There are no close fielders, and the player can play his shots and give the bat a full swing without feeling cramped with the fear of getting an edge. After all, there's no law against hitting the ball in the air.

At Northamptonshire we have a promising batsman in 17-year-old David Sales, who became the youngest player to turn out for the county (16 and 10 months) at the end of last year. He scored an impressive 70 not out on his debut against Essex in the last AXA Equity and Law League game of the season, a promising start. A County Championship outing can't be that far off for him.

He reminds me a bit of Allan Lamb. Like Lamb, he is a clean hitter of the ball with a good eye. His movement around the crease could improve, but I think coaches can over-complicate batting for young players sometimes and restrict the development of the full range of shots. Lamb can be a bit flat too, but he hits right through the ball. Sales has the same air of success about him when he bats. He looks like he expects to make runs.

My own first-class debut - not so much confidence in evidence in 1979 - was in the County Championship for Leicestershire, against, funnily enough, my present employers, Northamptonshire. I dropped my namesake, Geoff, the opening batsman, off my own bowling. I think some people thought he was a relative.

I'd like to blame cold hands for my first public mistake in professional cricket, but it was plenty warm enough that day. A lot warmer than Headingley last week. Yorkshire in June can be bitter. I remember enjoying a hot toddy during a drinks break at Harrogate one summer.

The West Indies looked out of sorts on Thursday in the field. The old schoolboy adage about never seeing a proper cricketer with his hands in his pockets has gone out the window.

For a spinner, the cold weather makes life very difficult. It becomes nigh on impossible to get a feel for the ball and nowadays many players keep hand warmers in their pockets, another reason the adage is out of date.

Luckily for the West Indies, they haven't exactly got a huge reputation for using slow bowlers on the first day of a Test match. Do they have spinners in the Caribbean any more?

*****

The tourists' game is always a good one for the county's beneficiary for the year. In fact, last week was a good one for me on that score with a successful golf day. Simon Grayson, the Leicester City footballer, won the longest drive competition, a rare trophy for my team this year. Some real cricketing bandits walked off with the overall spoils. It was bad enough that my former Leicestershire playing colleague, Chris Balderstone, who now umpires, was a winner, but Neil Mallender, Russell Warren and Tony Penberthy from the current Northamptonshire squad won as well. Not as I had planned.

*****

I'm not greatly in favour of change for the sake of change, but Robin Smith definitely didn't play the shot of an opening bat on Saturday. Not exactly great timing, either. Surely Alec Stewart should go in first with Atherton? We have one of the best opening pairings in the world. Why don't we use it?

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