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Name of the game will be attrition

By Mark Nicholas

Monday, May 18, 1998

THERE is a story about Allan Lamb, of Cape Town, and Robin Smith, of Durban, batting together for England against Sri Lanka in a limited-overs international. The umpires were John Holder, the West Indian who played for Hampshire, and David Constant, of Kent and Leicestershire. Lamb late cut a shortish ball and set off in pursuit of three.

The fielder on the third-man boundary, having sprinted to his right, picked up the ball one-handed and threw down the stumps at the non-striker's end. This brilliant fielding caused frenzied appeals for the run-out and agonised responses when umpire Constant turned them down.

Lamb, who was typically unfazed by the charade, gave one of those busy, peacock-chested looks of his, first to his breathless batting partner Smith, then to umpire Holder, then to the tut-tutting Sri Lankan fielders and finally to Constant, before declaring in his high, clipped tones: ``Geez, Connie, have you noticed? You're the only flippin' Englishman out here.''

Briefly in the early 1990s, Lamb, Smith and Graeme Hick batted together for England so the novelty of watching southern Africans in international cricket again wasn't so novel at all. This won't happen again because South African cricketers have recovered their identity and the exodus in search of international fulfilment is no longer necessary.

South Africans have illuminated county cricket since the late 60s and only Graeme Pollock of the extra special ones was denied to modern English audiences. They bought commitment and class to the county game and, contrary to the sometimes national characteristic, plenty of humour, too.

It was good to watch them at Worcester, revealing their impressive practice routines under the morning sunshine and illustrating the general enthusiasm that is a by-word for sport in South Africa. First impressions are much as expected: the 1998 model will be hard to beat but equally should not be too hard to resist unless the exciting new-ball pair Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald have a purple time of it. Hansie Cronje will bring more flair to the field than Kepler Wessels managed four years ago and Bob Woolmer's deep knowledge of English conditions will give the team an inside track. Having said that, attrition will be the main name of their game and so the cricket will be interesting rather than racey, honest rather than extravagant.

WHILE play continued at Worcester on Saturday, David Morgan, the chairman of the First-Class Forum and the man behind next year's Super Cup, gave a television interview. The Super Cup rewards the top eight in this year's championship with their own one-day tournament next season. Morgan continued to justify this ridiculous, gratuitous competition, which was bought in as a sop against a move for a two-divisional championship. Last week, 84 per cent of all professional cricketers in the country voted for two divisions. During the past six months, a staggering majority of people in and around cricket have thrown scorn on the Super Cup. It is inconceivable that even those who dreamt it up truly believe in it.

What Morgan could still do, because nothing that matters this much can be left to rest, is admit the hurried nature of the sop and that it is a nonsense and sit down with some people who know what they are about to sort it out. It doesn't matter if Morgan's committee change their mind. In fact, humility in search of a better structure would be admirable and would win respect from the masses who lament the muddled thinking.

The view of the administrators is that ``we are stuck with it for next year and then we'll see''. But we needn't be. We could act now and have a season without an extra competition, if need be. Heaven knows, the new National League, which will be played over 50 overs per side, will take plenty out of the players as it is and, with the World Cup, a Test series, one-day internationals and three domestic competitions, there is enough to focus on. Please, Mr Morgan, review your plan and take your time to get the structure right. Money is not everything and money is the only reason for this initiative. Bite the bullet, admit the mistake and the cricket world will be back on your side.

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Date-stamped : 18 May1998 - 06:36