The Disappeared

Published : Jun 21, 2003 00:00 IST

Some countries call them The Disappeared; friends and relatives who are alive and well one day and out of sight and two steps ahead of the nearest search party 24 hours later.


JUNE 2: Some countries call them The Disappeared; friends and relatives who are alive and well one day and out of sight and two steps ahead of the nearest search party 24 hours later. Cricket has its own disappeared but by a little diligent digging I manage to find the whereabouts of three you may forget. There is Paul Collingwood, a batting hero for England in Australia this winter but, it appears, out of all cricket for the rest of the summer. At 26, with a Test in his native Durham looming and the nation hoping he can be the next great middle order batsman, that is a disaster. The news of Simon Jones, the fast bowler whose steepling career is crushed by a knee injury while fielding in the first Test in Brisbane, is more optimistic. He is planning to be ready for cricket by the beginning of August but, sensibly, to walk before he can run and get fit by playing club cricket in Australia next winter. Everyone knows where Anthony McGrath has been recently; playing a big part in the first Test victory against Zimbabwe. But where is his pal Gavin Hamilton? You may recall that Gavin was Scotland's outstanding cricketer in the 1999 World Cup and an England Test all-rounder three months later. Sadly, he is now out of the Yorkshire team. He loses his action, gets a bad attack of the yips and is trying to work his way back into form in the second team. He shows that he can still bat by making 164 in a practice game at Bradford but maybe his best option is a return to Scotland, the land of his birth.

June 3: Hours of play will be a big bone of contention in the next few months. Channel 4 is trying to persuade the England and Wales Cricket Board that a 10.30 start will work next summer. They already persuade those stick-in-the-muds to bring the first over forward by 15 minutes but fail to make the right case for the abolition of the tea break. It's a joke around the country that to understand the laws governing the time of tea you need a university degree but the ECB will not hear of it being scrapped. "Meals breaks are part of the game's tradition," one of them squeaks. Other traditions that have gone away include the three-day county match, walking before the umpire raises his finger, amateurs changing in a different dressing room from the professionals, wearing the right cap rather than a sun hat, and never playing on a Sunday. Is the game any the worse? I leave you to debate that tricky subject. Besides meal times have never been fixed. Matches begin at all sorts of different times from 10 a.m. to noon; and as for tea it is subject to pages of rules and interpretations. Once upon a time the tradition was that the amateurs ate their tea in the pavilion and that the professionals unwrapped their sandwiches which they ate sitting on the grass. The whole object of the Channel 4 proposal is that Test days finish at about six o'clock. The implied threat is that if they don't get their own way they will not pitch for the next contract in 2006 and cover donkey racing, underwater darts or the mud pie Olympics instead.

As Channel 4 cricket consists of imaginative coverage, sharp commentators and lovely pictures — and as there may be no one else to bid for the Tests — it is a tricky problem for the ECB. I have a solution. They should call in whoever is captain and tell him as politely as possible that his bowlers have six hours to bowl 90 overs and that if they don't a new captain will take his place pretty damned quick. I think that might work.

June 4: John Stephenson, once secretary of MCC, died this week. It is a sad moment for two reasons. Of course, his family will miss him; but beyond that lay the unhappiness of a man who lost faith in cricket, who began to believe that commercialism was pushing the game he loved in a direction that would ultimately leave it destitute. As a result he drifted away from cricket in the 12 years after his retirement, distressed most that he could not find another place in the game. That is a pity in itself for John was a kindly man who bore the problems that faced him in his dual role as secretary of ICC — ball tampering, the isolation of South Africa and the need for the game to modernise itself — with the aplomb you would expect from a man who spent most of his life until 1987 in the Army. He had the officer's determination to see that all the rules were obeyed all the time and once stopped a friend of mine interviewing Mohammed Azharuddin because their presence might distract members in the Long Room. "But," said Azhar, "the Long Room is empty." Stephenson was quick to reply. "But someone might come in at any moment." As usual Lt. Col Stephenson had his orders obeyed.

June 5: The first Test in the newest ground for more than 100 years at the most northerly venue in the world — also known as the second Test between England and Zimbabwe at the Riverside ground, Chester-le-Street — begins with a second-ball wide. Seven and three quarter hours later, after a day of perfect weather, without any interruption except for the fall of five wickets and three drinks intervals, Zimbabwe finally bowled the 90th over. At the scheduled finish time they still have seven overs to bowl; the match referee rules that, everything taken into consideration, they are three overs short. What action does he take to ensure that this never happens again? I wait to hear but I am not holding my breath. The sponsors Vodafone want to present silver medallions to various heroes but sadly the man in charge leaves the gifts back in his hotel room and Mike Atherton is forced to move along the line of century-makers and match-winning bowlers, shaking hands and offering each man absolutely nothing. Giggles all round.

June 6: I spot Martin Speight, once Sussex and Durham wicket-keeper, now a full-time artist with a passion for picturing cricket grounds, putting oil to canvas to record the scene at the Test for posterity. It acts as a reminder of how many people at the Test pass through Durham at one stage of their career or another. There's the England captain Nasser Hussain, for three years a student at Durham University and a star batsman for Combined University. There is Alec Stewart's wife Lynn who meets the England Keeper when she is one of the personality girls at a sponsored cup-tie. Simon Hughes, now the much-praised analyst of technique for Channel 4, plays for Durham in their first season alongside David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, and Ian Botham, Sky's ace commentator. Of course there is Steve Harmison, born in nearby Ashington, and now the subject of such amusing tabloid headlines as The Barmy Harmi! The local people make this a memorable Test. As I leave the Press security guy greets us all at the bottom of the Press Box steps, shakes our hands and wishes us a safe journey and a Riverside return as soon as possible. I have a better chance of an Olympic gold medal in the 100 metres than a handshake from a steward at Lord's.

June 7: If Nasser Hussain thinks that the early finish to the Test gives him a month to relax — Essex have little first class cricket and he is not to play in the one-day international matches against Pakistan, Zimbabwe and South Africa — he is mistaken. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, announces that he recruits Hussain to act as his advisor and perhaps to give the new man Michael Vaughan a few tips. I wonder how Vaughan feels about this intrusion. Several Manchester United managers find the presence of Sir Matt Busby intimidating back in the 1970s and I cannot think of anything more likely to set Vaughan's teeth on edge than the knowledge that Hussain is watching every move he makes.

June 8: An Australian Test star looks down his nose at Phil Tufnell, sitting on his couch at Chester-le-Street, puffing on his howmanyeth cigarette of the day, and sneers: "Is that supposed to be the image English cricket wants to portray at the beginning of the 21st century." From somewhere over his right shoulder the answer came as quickly as a Jason Gillespie yorker: "Don't forget Shane Warne."

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