IRISH LOVE FOR SPORT

You may know that the Irish lose all their concerns over religion, the border and what they call The Troubles when they play international sport, writes TED CORBETT.

June 5: To enter the gates at Trent Bridge is to receive, so it seems, a hug from an old friend. The ground gives off the same feeling as a warm handshake, its officials are full of pleasant greetings and there is always someone around with a kind word. So I find it difficult to understand why one writer sees the notices about searches and security and who may park where as an authoritarian threat.

I receive a visit from Brian Bolus, former player with Yorkshire, Notts and Derbyshire, captain at Derby, committeeman, national selector alongside Ray Illingworth and Fred Titmus and for the last two years the president of Nottinghamshire. "We must not underestimate Kevin Pietersen," he says. "Look at him, slogging with a straight bat. That takes a lot of talent. I'd have given a lot to be able to bat like that." They are generous folk in Nottinghamshire too for Pietersen left under a cloud to go to Hampshire where he acquires a new girl friend. Her picture is in one of the tabloids whose reporter asks what she likes most in a man. "Confidence," says Miss Jessica Taylor, 25, a singer with the group Liberty X. I think she finds the right man.

June 6: When the Test finishes on the fourth day, we decide to stay an extra night in Nottingham, a lovely city even though the statistics say it is the murder capital of the country. It is just as well I do. As I leave the hotel I see a gleaming pair of eyes focussing on a bearded face coming through the revolving doors. Why it is Muttiah Muralitharan welcoming Monty Panesar and ready to impart the secret of his success. I am not sure whether this means Murali is about to retire or whether he believes passionately that sport is international and that its secrets must be handed to the next generation. A long time ago Alec Bedser shares his knowledge with one or two Australians, Dennis Lillee tells me that John Snow teaches him how to bowl a leg cutter and now the greatest spinner in the world is passing on tips to a lad who is clearly potentially a fine Test bowler.

June 7: There have always been brilliant wicket-keepers in this country who are left out of the Test team. Les Ames, the great 'keeper and high-class batsman of the 1930s (Test average 40) makes it impossible for George Duckworth (average 14), to play many Tests. For the same reason Bob Taylor makes two full tours of Australia as understudy to Alan Knott, Alec Stewart gets the nod ahead of Jack Russell and now Geraint Jones is preferred to Chris Read. But Jones is no longer scoring freely — 49 runs in his last seven Test innings — and the argument opens up again. I hear there was a very long selection committee meeting indeed before Read finds a place in the development squad and that it will be difficult to persuade some people to let Read back into Test side. There is a further complication. Steve Davies of Worcester, whose backers include Steve Rhodes, the former long-term Worcestershire wicket-keeper and briefly the England 'keeper and now head coach of the county, has claims to be next in line. Davies will not be 20 until later this month but he already has two big centuries in county cricket although he has little first-class experience. Does that matter? I think not. Oddly, he names Read as one of the cricketers he admires most. The other is Adam Gilchrist who may be his opponent when the Ashes come round.

June 8: Eric Bedser is dead and that must be a bad blow to his twin brother Alec, the better known of the two because he captures 236 Test wickets while Eric only ever works his way into one Test trial. They cannot both make it at Surrey as quick bowlers so they toss a coin and Eric loses in the sense that when he turns to off breaks he has competition from Jim Laker, one of the greatest, the left-arm spinner Tony Lock and Ken Barrington who bowls a nifty leg break. But, despite their grumbles that no cricketer worth the name is born after 1945 and their conservative way of life, the two Bedsers are happy, living at home with their Mum, building successful businesses after they retire from cricket and never wishing to marry. Now that Mum and Eric are gone, Alec must be a lonely man. I will always remember the pair of them in the bar at Lord's sipping pints of beer in exactly the same way so that, even if they were in the middle of two different groups, their glasses always held precisely the same amount.

June 9: The World Cup football begins but, hey, I'm trawling through Who's Who trying to find the strangest cricketer. How about Deon Kruis, the 32-year-old Yorkshire fast bowler, born in South Africa and so superstitious that he ties four knots in his left boot lace when he is batting and five when he is bowling. And when his career comes to an end he wants to be a falconer. "I'm really keen to get into it," he says.

June 10: We are off to Belfast next week to see what England will regard as a warm-up match for their one-day games and the Irish as a chance for a bit of giant killing. The International Cricket Council call it a full one-day international and rightly so. You may know that the Irish lose all their concerns over religion, the border and what they call The Troubles when they play international sport. I have good reason to know. Many years ago I am about to move to Belfast when my boss decides that the IRA, the terrorist organisation, will harm me, simply because I am English. That same morning his phone rings and an Irish voice delivers this message: "The IRA will never knowingly hurt someone in sport. Tell Mr. Corbett to take the job and we will see no harm comes to him." Perhaps wisely the post remains vacant until an Irishman can fill it. And we never discover how the IRA know I am on my way to Belfast.

June 11: Fred Trueman, a man who has good health all his life, is shocked by the cancer that attacks him so suddenly, but buoyed by the number of letters, emails, cards and notes of good wishes he receives. He wants me to tell the world what he feels. "I get letters from all over the sub-continent," he says. "And many of them mention that you let people know I am ill. Can you put a note in that diary of yours to say I cannot possibly reply to them all — they are all over the house at this very moment — but that I am grateful for the kindness of strangers. I pray every night and it is good to know that other people are praying for me as well."