What's in store for '94: Cricket

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AN early contender for the obscure quiz question of 1994. What - in cricketing terms - do Harold Wilson and Ken Higgs have in common? Answer: both were at No 10 (Downing Street and the England batting order respectively) when South Africa last played a Test match in this country.

This summer marks the first South African visit to England since 1965, when Rhodesia was declaring UDI, national health charges were zero, mods and rockers were throwing pieces of seaside rock (and not the sort with Blackpool written right through them) at each other, and British television, like South Africa itself, was still operating in black and white.

The last day's play occurred on 31 August, at the pre-Foster's Oval, and the Test match was drawn. It was Brian Statham's final Test, and this winter's England tour manager, M J K Smith, was the captain. The South African team contained both Pollocks, Eddie Barlow, Colin Bland, and one of the central figures in South Africa's move into multi-racial cricket, Ali Bacher.

The Springboks, or the Zebras as they are now known by practically no one, make up the second leg of a split tour with New Zealand, with three Test matches and two one-day internationals apiece. As far as England are concerned, however, the historical significance is perhaps outweighed by the possibility that this summer's opposition provides them with the chance of winning a match or two for a change.

Were it not for last year's elevation of Zimbabwe to Test-playing status, England and New Zealand would currently be involved in a heated dogfight for Test cricket's wooden spoon, and South Africa's tentative elbow into the bathwater after so many years in exile is not without a few burns and blisters.

Much may depend on how much confidence, or otherwise, England return with from the West Indies. Any lumps and bumps on our batsmen are unlikely to be from falling coconuts, but there is a new mood of optimism under a new captain (who, after all, won his last match in charge) and if Michael Atherton returns with reputation enhanced, he could be in charge for a long time.

The English summer in general will be the poorer for the absence of several old friends (Botham, Gower, Richards, Marshall, Foster, Pringle, Randall . . .) and the first half of it is unlikely to be uplifted too much by New Zealand. In the post-Hadlee era they are a grey old side, although the Lord's marketing men will probably prevail on them to take part in Maori war dances and perform the haka in the slip cordon to drum up a bit more interest.

On the domestic front, four-day cricket continues despite its first-year failing to convince everyone that Mogadon would be more appropriate sponsors than Britannic, but Middlesex last year provided unarguable evidence that it almost guarantees the pennant going to the best side.