A puzzling decree


Kevin Pietersen holding the Ashes urn at Lord's.-AP

JULY 11. Andrew Symonds is man of the series in the NatWest one-day tournament and with plenty of justification. He turns a bad start — remember his night on the town and suspension — into two good batting performances, a record breaking bowling spell and some of the best fielding you will see anywhere. But what about Mohammad Ashraful? In a bad side he hits a century, a 94, a 58 out of 139 and two noughts, makes more runs than anyone else, plays a large part in Bangladesh's wonderful win over Australia and may score a lot more if he has the chance to bat against his team's bowlers. You may think that he deserves the prize. Why not? I have a bizarre explanation. One cricket writer nominates Ashraful and is told by the sponsors' man: "You can't vote for him. The team flies home yesterday and he's not here." I am very puzzled by this decree and think it may be worth the sponsor's while either to keep young Mohammad here for a couple of extra nights or fly him back. Of course I don't know how much business NatWest do in Bangladesh. Or am I going down with an attack of the cynicism syndrome that strikes all reporters from time to time.

July 12. I will not mention this minor private success but it is my first sporting prize since I am at school which is so long ago that the dark ages hardly begin. I agree to take part in a quiz night for charity at a pub near the Oval. My team — known as Radioheads which, since I no longer have any radio work, must mean I am chosen for the quality of my brain — win by team work, hours of practice and our commitment to training, diet and fitness regimes. Not! I can now reveal — let's hope Lord Condon and his anti-corruption sleuths are listening — that two hours before the quiz an attempt is made to get me to join another team. I refuse to even listen to the benefits that will come my way if I move. Any way, we carry off a bottle of champagne apiece and the cancer charity receives more than �800; far more important than any personal triumph.

July 13. As you can imagine there is a lot of stupid chatter about the four men from deep in Yorkshire cricket country who are said to be the terrorists who blew themselves, three Tube trains and a bus to pieces a week ago. I am not going to discuss the why and wherefores of their acts; although I draw the line at calling men brave enough to die for their cause "cowards" which is the way they are often described. I prefer to remember the kindness of various Muslims I meet round the world and particularly one from Bradford who in a sea of white faces is the only local who knows the whereabouts of the Yorkshire Cricket Academy and who has the decency to guide me there.

July 14. Kevin Pietersen wins his place in the England squad for the first Test after a week in which the merits of Pietersen and Graham Thorpe are the subject of endless debates, votes and shouting matches. No, that is not in the selection committee meetings. Anyway, by whatever process David Graveney, the chairman, plumps for Pietersen as the younger and more aggressive batsman who creates a good atmosphere in the dressing room although I believe there are England players who will dispute that definition of his qualities. It is more likely that Thorpe loses the battle when he announces that he is off Down Under this autumn. Not the action of a fully-committed batsman, you may think. Did you know that Thorpe plays against the Aussie Test side only twice in the last eight years. So it may only need his bold words about his commitment, his love of the big occasion; and the sight of him battling at the Oval where he makes 74 of England's 228 in the last match of the NatWest Challenge that persuades the selectors that Pietersen is the man. Actually, he is not just a big hitter but a fine fielder too. I keep reading that he is in awe of his Hampshire captain Shane Warne and that Warne may therefore have an advantage. We'll see. If Pietersen does not make the grade there is another batsman waiting who is more like Thorpe than Thorpe.

Left-handed, with a knack of manipulating the ball into space Ed Joyce is 27, plays a lot in Ireland before he joins Middlesex and is now part of the Irish team that wins its way to the World Cup in 2007. Ireland lose to Scotland in the final but Joyce top scores with 81 out of 277. Joyce also averages 106 in the group stages of the tournament which, as I tell you a few weeks ago, gives the Irish governing body a headache since they will want him to play in the World Cup and may yet find he is an opponent with England. I also hear that ICC want to examine his passport before he is given leave to play for England.

July 15. Some unknown, unprincipled rascal wins a bunch of tickets for the first Test and promptly sells them on e-bay. Oh, tut, tut say the authorities and make the buyers unwelcome when they turn up at the Grace Gate. But is this stern course of action justified? Surely when you win something, it becomes your property and you use it as you wish. Don't argue that case at Lord's however. They are too busy being indignant to listen to logic. Or legality.

July 16. I once go into the players' dining room at Lord's and I cannot believe the amount of food there is lying around. Are these guys athletes or gourmet eaters? I am hardly in the door when a tiny woman with an Irish accent you can cut with a shamrock tells me I am welcome if I come to eat; otherwise, she says, go away. Actually she turns out to be the most kind-hearted woman and insists I have a plate of food that will daunt a medium size giant. She is Nancy Doyle, the cook who makes Mike Gatting the man he is today. (I notice that he puts on weight during his charity walks this summer which means that he either does not walk the full distance or that another chef with a heavy hand is providing the meals.) Sadly, Nancy dies, at 76, recently. She is famous throughout the game but she is not the most famous cook to come out of Lord's. That distinction goes to Ainsley Harrison, the genial host of many television shows, who begins his career anonymously alongside Nancy. It must be quite a sight since she does not top 5ft by more than an inch and he tops 6ft by several.

July 17. About this time of year members of the Cricket Writers Club vote for the Young Cricketer of the Year. Usually it's a pleasure since there are any number of candidates like last year's winner Ian Bell who is now ready to step into the Test side and a whole load of other winners. But this year it is a more difficult task. For instance — and this may tell you something about the consistency of selection which is a feature of the Fletcher years — the obvious nominees are either too old like Chris Tremlett and Matt Prior or not qualified to play for England. There are one or two exceptions like Ravi "Puppy" Bopara, 20, and Alistair "Chef" Cook, 20, of Essex and Nick "Compo" Compton, 22, of Middlesex. I hear good reports of all three and one of them is bound to be the winner. I ask a wise old cricketer about Compton, grandson of one of the greatest batsmen who ever wears an England cap. "He's got a lot of ability and any amount of self confidence.

In fact, I guess that if his ability matches his self-confidence he will be out there at this moment," he grins, pointing to the Lord's pitch where England are playing Australia in the NatWest Challenge. "I am sure he thinks he ought to be there." Just like grandfather then.