A wider range to choose from

OUT in the middle early in this warm season, two young men have already made their mark in a way that suggests the England selectors have a wider area to choose from than the dreadful winter's results indicated.

Ted Corbett

OUT in the middle early in this warm season, two young men have already made their mark in a way that suggests the England selectors have a wider area to choose from than the dreadful winter's results indicated.

Michael Vaughan becomes the first cricketer to appear on the dust cover of The Wisden Almanack, replacing the dull, old woodcut. — Pic. AP-

The best-known figure about Bilal Shafayat is that he is still only 18 although he is the England Under-19 captain. He promises to make this season memorable since his opening innings brought a century in 73 balls. He almost reached a second century in Nottinghamshire's opening county game.

That first hundred puts him in the lead for the often forgotten Walter Lawrence Trophy which is awarded to the batsman who scores the fastest century of the season. Shafayat may have been lucky to hit form against Durham University on his home pitch at Trent Bridge just two days into the first-class season; but Durham have won promotion to the big arena and all runs and wickets against them count.

A former England selector who saw the Shafayat hundred — with four sixes and 15 fours — said: "He's just a little boy now but we are all holding our breath. He is marvellously talented.'' The lad was born in Nottingham so his rise has left the locals spellbound for several years already.

Will Jefferson of Essex comes from a cricketing family — both grandfather and father played first-class cricket — but he has another statistic that is not easily forgotten. He is 6ft 10, although rather modestly he proclaims in the Cricketers' Who's Who for 2003 that he is half an inch shorter!

Jefferson also began the season with a century before lunch on the first day of the season against Cambridge University, who have always been the victims of ambitious Essex batsmen. He is only the third cricketer to make a hundred before lunch on the first day of the season and he is just 23.

Memorably, at 15, Jefferson received a hand-written note of congratulations from Sir Colin Cowdrey who had just seen him play two impressive innings.

My annual skim through Who's Who reminds me that this is the time of year when cricket publishers sell their products. Wisden Almanack will be out next week, with a photograph of Michael Vaughan on the dust cover instead of a dull, old woodcut. The change has caused Colonel Blimps to have heart attacks. More strength to the editor Tim de Lisle who has always been a progressive journalist. Another newspaper described the decision as "one that might be seen by some older cricket lovers as an act of treachery:" but the old cover goes back only to 1938 even though it looks as if it might have been put together 200 years earlier. De Lisle wrote afterwards that "cricket, like the new-look Wisden, must move forward". I doubt if anyone, least of all those in charge at Lord's, listened to his wisdom.

I used to think of myself as a hard-working journalist. I deceived myself. De Lisle writes about rock music as well as cricket but there is one author to outstrip us all.

This week I received a 540-page book which weighs almost two pounds and is written by William Powell, who not only holds down a job as a project management consultant but has written 19 books, become a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and is about to take his examinations after a post-graduate course in information technology. At 15 he was a committee member of Kirk Langley Cricket Club and is now a vice president, he has played the game for — among many others — The Gentlemen of Hertfordshire, Budleigh Salterton and Watford Town. He is a member of MCC, Surrey, Middlesex and Hertfordshire, The Cricket Society, The Cricket Writers Club and the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians; he has been the official scorer for Sri Lankan and Pakistan touring sides; and watched cricket around the world. He is just 39.

Most important of all, he has visited all the 82 grounds — from Forfar in Scotland, by way of the new northern capital at Chester-le-Street which is shortly to stage its first Test to the southern tip at Hove — mentioned in his paperback but none-the-less weighty volume. It contains one of the longest lists of acknowledgements — to 114 people in all — that has appeared in any cricket book.

Its detailed information is staggering. You want to know the name of the computer scoreboard operator at Lord's: it's Andrew Scarlett. Or the phone number for the nearest football club to the Durham grounds: try Darlington FC on 01325-240240. Or the best eating place near the Northampton ground, two miles from the railway station which can be covered in a No.1 bus to within 200 yards of the front entrance, then you might enjoy the tastes of Mem Saan.

Fred Trueman was asked what it would need for a bowler to overtake his then record of 307 Test wickets and replied: "I know one thing — he will be ruddy tired!" By the same token I bet there are times when William Powell is tired although whenever I see him he appears to be so cheerful I wonder how he fits everything into a life that keeps him fresh and eternally interested in all things cricket.

There has been more than one occasion in the past 20 years or so when I was in dire need of such a book. Paying my first visit to Bristol for a Benson and Hedges Cup tie — which ran for three days without a ball being bowled and which Middlesex won on the toss of a coin — I had to stop to ask directions.

I did not know it at the time but I was already less than 800 yards from my destination. I drew up alongside a middle-aged couple and said. "Could you tell me the way to the Gloucestershire county cricket ground, please."

The man laughed. "Sorry, sonny," he said as if addressing an idiot. "You're in the wrong city. Gloucestershire play in Gloucester. Always have done. Always will do." I thanked him, drove round the next corner and saw old W. G. Grace's ground in front of me.

On another occasion I had to write a feature about Pudsey, the small Yorkshire town where Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton and Ray Illingworth grew up. I asked a man walking through the town centre: "I'm looking for the St. Lawrence ground. Can you tell me where it is". With what passes for humour in Yorkshire, he replied: "I've not seen it. Has someone stolen it." He too roared with laughter. I have few gripes about this information-packed tome. It might have been lightened by a couple of human stories about the grounds, the type is necessarily small and sadly the authorities have missed out on the chance to hammer home a message about racial abuse on our grounds.

Instead it delivers a standard message about each county club expecting good behaviour, that bad language will not be tolerated and that appropriate dress is necessary. Fine, but there is an element in the British crowd that thinks it funny or patriotic to scream foul abuse at Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lanka or West Indian players.

As this book bears the name of the ECB it would have been the right place to reinforce the message that racial language is beyond the pale. It has not been diminished for all the hard work from ECB and others.

If players like Shafayat are to play comfortably for England, if touring teams are not to dread their trips here and if spectators are to sit easily in every part of all the first-class grounds in this country, racial tension must be reduced.

Still, for the average, middle-class, retired spectator watching Ian Ward and Mark Butcher bat for Surrey against Peter Martin and Jimmy Anderson on a quiet afternoon at Old Trafford, this book is the ideal aid to their dreams of an England side that once again defeats Australia for the Ashes, reaches the final of the World Cup and looks the other cricketing nations in the eye.