THE old notion of county cricket being a sport of pints and camaraderie seems to be experiencing a slow death. Never mind that the game is now far more hotly contested than it was even 10 years ago, but the general off-field fraternity between teams is declining. This is partly due to the fact that although breweries sponsor about half the counties, their products are rejected by today's younger professional in favour of non-alcoholic, fizzy substances.
Players like Mark Ramprakash, Nasser Hussain, Chris Lewis and Jack Russell are confirmed Coca- Cola addicts - creating the potential for rotten teeth rather than stomachs - and a desire to chew the cud over a few jars in the club tavern tends to be replaced by the lure of a cruise round loud, garish high street bars.
The exception to this rule is Yorkshire, whose earthy humour is very much intact and who have weaned the Indian boy wonder, Sachin Tendulkar, off milk and on to a strange mixture of Baileys Irish Cream topped up with Tia Maria. The multi-talented Tendulkar, able to throw powerfully with either arm and bowl leg-spin and off-spin as well as swingers, has had no trouble fitting into the Yorkshire side or understanding their jokes, and has played a leading role in each of their three Championship victories.
He is much in demand, due to appear in both semi-finals of the floodlit Flamingo Land Trophy at Sheffield's Don Valley stadium, one tonight for his county against Durham, the other the following day for India against Lancashire. Presumably he, like his county colleagues, will be hoping he is on the losing side, as 10 hours after Thursday's final - due to finish around midnight - Yorkshire are at Uxbridge for a three-day game.
YORKSHIRE'S Mark Robinson may have the most manufactured follow-through in the game, but the long-armed seamer has been in impressive form this year, contributing wickets regularly and even managing a batting average of around 4.00. He clearly still does not relish the prospect of wielding the willow, as he disappeared off to the shops while his team progressed to 82 for 1 at Durham.
Suddenly seven wickets fell in five overs and Robinson had to be pursued into Marks and Spencer and driven back to the ground. Tracksuited, he raced towards the pavilion as No 10 strode out to bat. Fortunately no more wickets fell immediately, allowing Robinson time to pad up. On reflection, though, we bowlers would have been prepared to wait a while for the country's most established rabbit to emerge.
NO other cricketer apart from Ian Botham walks across the Lord's outfield in shorts, has a three-day holiday in the Channel Islands in the middle of August or receives countless letters from far-flung places, addressed merely: 'Ian Botham, care of England CCC'. One from Mr Tony Kanapanatham of Cochin, India, read: 'Dear Mr Botham. We all loved the way you danced after taking a wicket in the World Cup 1992. This letter is to ask you if you'd be interested in importing cashew nuts from factories here . . . you could even start a shop . . .'
AS USUAL after a devastating bowling spell in a Test match, there have been inquests and accusations. As everyone knows cricket is run predominantly by batsmen for batsmen, so one newspaper published close-ups of Waqar Younis allegedly scratching the ball while Ritchie Benaud was heard to exclaim 'Hang on a minute' when Aqib Javed had a little tug at the leather.
The truth is that unless you have fingernails like Cruella de Vil it is impossible to exaggerate the damage to the ball that a dry, fourth- day wicket has already done. Far more advantage to the bowler is gleaned by the (legal) soaking process on the other side, making the ball unbalanced, and the fact that when Wasim Akram goes round the wicket he is invisible behind the umpire until the last three strides.
Simon Hughes, of Durham, typed his column with the shakes, due in next to face Allan Donald.
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