No more free lunches

In Yorkshire, where money is worshipped in a way which few people from outside the county will understand, there is a nasty shock for their best known cricketing heroes.


Former England captain Brian Close has been an Yorkshire official since the late 1940s. Even he has been stripped of some privileges as the county faces a cash crunch.-Pic. ADRIAN MURRELL/GETTY IMAGES

JUNE 23: In Yorkshire, where money is worshipped in a way which few people from outside the county will understand, there is a nasty shock for their best known cricketing heroes. Men like Fred Trueman, Geoff Boycott, Ray Illingworth, and Brian Close, all England stars long ago, are told that in future they will have to pay 75 pounds a time to have lunch while they watch Tests at Headingley. All these fine players are life members of the Yorkshire club which is meant to include free entry to Headingley for any match. Sadly, the county is near bankruptcy, owes six million pounds sterling to the bank and relies on the generosity of Colin Graves, a supermarket owner, who ploughs cash into the county when it is in danger of going under and acts as chief executive. He even foots the 70,000 pounds bill to import Yuvraj Singh. Naturally, some of the older heroes are angry to discover that their privileges are cut back. Boycott says: "The club is being run like a supermarket. The heart and soul is being ripped out of the club. Even if they make a commercial success they are not winning the hearts and minds of the spectators, the members, past presidents and life members. With them Yorkshire is finished; it's dead." Close, teenage star, captain and an official since the late 1940s and probably the least prosperous of them all, says: "Fortunately, the Test isn't up to much this year and I shall probably be going as a corporate guest. I'm disappointed but the county is in a fix." Graves says: "Hospitality costs us 70,000 pounds a year and we cannot afford to give things away any more." No comment from Dickie Bird, their opening bat and later the world's most famous umpire, who reaps millions from his autobiography. I don't doubt he will be at Headingley come Test match time. No cricket match in England is complete without a sighting of this particular Bird.

June 24: No sooner is the Twenty 20 competition here than it is finished, save for the all-day programme of two semi-finals and a final on July 19; otherwise known as the first 12-hour cricket experience. That day, beginning at 10.30, we will witness a semi-final between Warwickshire and Leicestershire, a second an hour and a half later between Surrey and Gloucestershire and then an evening final. As a young soldier in Tokyo, I remember going to the movies and seeing two films — On The Waterfront with Marlon Brando and James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause — lasting nearly five hours for threepence; those were the days! It will cost a good deal more to watch 12 hours of cricket and certainly a lot more in stamina. Gloucestershire are the favourites for this first competition, mainly because of the exploits of their Australian all-rounder Ian Harvey who plays a major role as they win three out of four one-day tournaments two years ago and the up-to-the-wicket pranks of Jack Russell, their 39-year-old keeper. There is no doubt about the popularity of the new competition; but where do its organisers go next? Leave well alone, is the answer from the players. They don't want it expanding to the limits set by some enthusiasts who seem set on a 32-match Twenty 20 championship last all summer long. There will be no trouble finding sponsors next year, I'll bet.

June 25: All England's Test players receive special numbered ties, an idea put forward by Ted Dexter, a man with an answer for every occasion, to mark their distinction. No doubt they will all — 615 in total since Tom Armitage gets the No. 1 spot on an alphabetical basis for his part in the first Test in 1877 — put them in a secret place. The most recent is Richard Johnson, the Somerset fast bowler, and interestingly Michael Vaughan, the one-day captain and batsman of 2002, is No. 600. Dexter is 388. At the same time a Don Bradman baggy green goes for �35,000 at an auction even though the experts feel it is likely to bring no more than �20,000. The Don wears it on his first tour in 1930. Of course not every memorable cricket item is genuine and it is said that several Len Hutton bats go on sale soon after 1938 reputed to be the one with which he made his world record 364.

June 26: This is what cricket is all about, I think as I stop by for a glass of cold white wine and a chat with some of my favourite people at Trent Bridge. Socialising is the real name of the game. In some parts of the ground, elevenses drifts into a drinks interval, followed by lunch, followed by another drinks interval and tiffin and tea. No wonder there are so many well-rounded people running the game. They are all talking about the catch by Rikki Clarke at gully off Doug Marillier who walks, sportingly and without hesitation. The television replays are indecisive but most of us are now taking no notice of them and relying on our instinct.

June 27: Controversy hits the Twenty20 competition as Leicestershire and Derbyshire battle for a place in the semi-final. Leicestershire, powered by the Australian Brad Hodge and India's Virender Sehwag, win by a single run but not before Hodge takes a boundary catch and then, as he celebrates, treads on the rope. Had the catch been completed? The Derbyshire captain Dominic Cork goes on to protest publicly about "cricket's growing culture of cheating" that is spoiling cricket. Controversy may well be Cork's middle name and he is not averse to a little light sledging as in his greeting to one batsman recently: "I hate you — and I hate your legs!" But while he takes care to absolve the umpire Roy Palmer from blame, Cork goes full blast for Hodge. "It is down to the win at all costs attitudes and blatant cheating which are making cricket more like football with every season and which I hate. In football it's diving, shirt-pulling and feigning injury. In cricket it's claiming catches on the bounce, pretending the ball has not gone over the rope and players standing their ground when they thick-edge it to slip. Hundreds of people see Hodge run several feet over the rope and thousand more see him doing it on television. But when the umpire asks whether he stays inside the line he insists that he has and he says the same to me which is why I called him a cheat to his face. The trouble is that there is precious little honour in the game these days and I am very disappointed that Leicestershire's captain Phil DeFreitas doesn't intervene when it is so obvious what happens." Cork will raise the question with the Professional Cricketers Association; Hodge is talking about legal action. Cork may also find himself in front of the disciplinary people.

June 28: To the Oval where Vikram Solanki, born on April 1, the joker's day, hits a scintillating century in the manner of Rahul Dravid, gathering pace as he finds the South African bowling more and more to his taste. At 27 Vik already packs a heap of experience, not to mention 15 first class centuries, four one-day hundreds and tours around the world going back 10 years into the life that begins in Udaipur.

He and Richard Johnson, the powerfully-built fast bowler now with Somerset, are the best of the — comparative — newcomers to the England side but of course the star of the show again is the captain for the day Marcus Trescothick whose scores for England this fruitful summer read: 59, 43, 18, 86, 108, 58 and 114. What a contrast with Michael Vaughan, without a score of 30 so far, injured just ahead of this match and, according to one pundit:" He thinks he is moving his feet, but he isn't." Back to the nets, Michael, if you want to repeat 2002, your wonder year.

June 29: Cruel remark of the week. As the television cameras pan down the Trent Bridge pitch, someone comments that "there are cracks wide enough to get your key down." A voice in the background, unheard by the viewers, goes: "Yes, but not Robert Key!''