NUMEROUS delays at Darlington as Reader ball is changed three times in first session: it constantly deteriorates and resembles a shapeless piece of granite after contact with pitch or bat. Progress not helped as replacements have to be ferried down the A1 by taxi from Durham. Whether this situation is because manufacturers are skimping on the quality or thickness of leather or because straw-coloured pitches are more abrasive is hard to say, but the pristine white version we use on Sundays becomes grubby and torn after only 10 overs irrespective of the conditions. Needless to say, they don't swing. All the older pundits (eg Alec Bedser, Ray Illingworth, Bobby Simpson) agree that the workmanship leaves something to be desired. With most of the odds stacked against bowlers these days, I don't really envy young pacemen coming into the game, though Warwickshire's latest recruit, left-armer Michael Bell, of Jamaican father and Austrian mother, looks a valuable discovery. A combination of left-arm over and off-spin is an asset in four-day cricket as the latter can bowl into rough created by the former. Neil Smith, emerging from his father's shadow into a competent all-rounder, will benefit.
YORKSHIRE'S renaissance temporarily jeopardised by a strange incident at Old Trafford. Richie Richardson takes a slip catch but damages a finger so badly it requires surgery. He will be absent a while. Craig White jumps up in celebration of the wicket but falls down a pothole and wrenches an ankle. It's just as well Laurie Brown is on duty and not Yorkshire's former physio Reckless Eric, whose treatments often exacerbated rather than cured.
'HAS anyone seen the blue-pad paint,' someone asks? Which reminds me, when did anyone last dip in to the good old-fashioned pot of whitener in a first-class game? These days pads are covered with a sheen that can be wiped clean with a J-cloth, while footwear is daubed with so many coloured logos and slogans, the dirt doesn't show. If they get too grubby, just throw them out. This is not the case in club cricket, of course. Only the other day, a benefit match opponent appeared wearing a pair of heavily crusted Winits not seen on the professional circuit for at least a decade. 'I've had these 11 years,' he said. 'And they've still got another four or five years' wear in 'em.' How times change.
Which is also true of the umpires' ordeal - worse in some ways, better in others, and not helped by biased BBC2 programmes. After a close run- out, John Hampshire admitted the advent of the 'armchair official' monitoring the TV during Test matches was a relief. 'I can relax and wait for the stewards' enquiry on the close calls,' he said, a view shared by most colleagues, so clearly the third umpire is here to stay.
AND so it seems are Devon Malcolm, Steve Watkin and Angus Fraser. It's taken all summer but eventually we managed to assemble the bowler with the most pace, the one with the biggest heart and the one with the highest degree of accuracy on the same field. Even Russell Grant would have been unable to forecast the permutations of seamers during the series. It went from Caddick, DeFreitas and Lewis to Bicknell, McCague and Ilott by mid- series, with Igglesden lurking on a treatment table somewhere. In fact, Malcolm and Watkin should have played all season while Fraser's revival is not only a godsend but a remarkable testimony to devotion and sheer willpower. The celebrations in his local, The 31 2 Men (officially known as The Seven Balls), will have been long and joyous as at last they have got county cricket's best whinger off their backs and restored to England. Fraser moans because he sets high standards for himself and everyone else on his side. He is the last person who would ever feel self-satisfied and that, perhaps, is the philosophy that most enhances his handiwork. Atherton's main problem will be how to get the ball off him, even if it does look like something the dog brought in.
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