UNDERSTANDABLE WHY READ SEES RED

Gossip about Chris Read (above), who was once England wicketkeeper, says he lacks the toughness needed to play Test cricket. The whispering campaign is quite unnecessary, writes TED CORBETT.

May 15: Unusually for a cricket club with seven separate sides, all playing every week, members of the Mersham Club pray for rain. Their ground is located in a part of Surrey with a hosepipe ban because of the drought. With all the cricket to be played there is a danger their pitches will dry out. The Club's deputy chairman Graeme Attridge says: "Fortunately, it has been very damp this season but if we have a half decent summer we will have problems."

May 16: Earlier this summer Lancashire hear that they will not have a Test when the Australians visit in 2009 which seems to leave the club a space in which to organise a move from Old Trafford where cricket has been staged since 1857. On April 25 that year a notice appears on the front page of the Manchester Courier, a forefather of the paper now known as The Guardian, which reads: MANCHESTER CRICKET CLUB, The opening of the New Ground at Old Trafford, adjoining the Art Treasures Exhibition, is fixed for Saturday, May 9. Wickets pitched at two. Dinner on the table at four. RICHARD HAMPSON, Treasurer, MCC. That advertisement heralds the start of a notable era, where some of the most famous stars, from Archie MacLaren to Brian Statham to Freddie Flintoff begin their careers and where some of the finest Tests are played, notably the 1956 Ashes game in which Jim Laker finishes with 19 wickets. For the last couple of years Lancashire wonder if they ought to move to a new ground 20 miles away at Wigan or on the other side of the city where Manchester City also find a new home. Today they announce they will stay put, refurbish the old ground, add floodlights and rely on their history to bring the top games back.

May 17: It is easy to understand why Chris Read, once the England wicket-keeper — but dropped at the end of the series against West Indies that set the tongues wagging about overtaking Australia one day — might lose his temper after being given out and being given four disciplinary points and later a suspended one match ban. Read is a class 'keeper as I saw when we went to watch England A recently. Geraint Jones is not half the 'keeper, but he has just set a new record for 100 Test catches and he bats to such a standard that England may try him at No. 6 one day. Read is clearly not happy but there is no need for the present whispering campaign. He is, so the gossips say, lacking in the toughness needed for Test cricket and putting him back in the Test side would be `introducing him to a hostile dressing room' since Jones is so much part of the set-up. All quite unnecessary.

May 18: Now that England's cricketers are truly famous and well paid too, the price of a fashionable house each year, they have been accorded celebrity status by the newspapers which means that there is at least a paragraph in the diary columns every time they go to a restaurant. So how do they react? They follow the pop singers, the movie stars, the television soap actors and the footballers and give their kids weird names. Michael Vaughan starts the trend by calling his daughter Tallulah Grace and his son Archie; presumably after the ventriloquist's dummy Archie Andrews. Andrew Flintoff follows up by naming his son Corey. Andrew Strauss, who is so posh the players call him Brocket, after rich Lord Brocket, names his son Samuel David instead of something aristocratic. So I am glad to see that Steve Harmison names his daughter Isabelle Grace although how much of that is a nod in the direction of Vaughan I am not sure. It is also pleasing that Matthew Hoggard, who gives the gym a miss to take his dogs walking on the moors, calls the Old English sheepdog Mollie and the Doberman Billy. As down to earth as you may expect of this work-a-day cricketer.

May 19: I am unlikely to see the World Cup in West Indies from anywhere except my own living room. My travel agent emails me to say that he is having so much trouble booking rooms that he declines to have any more to do with the tournament. I sympathise. I have doubts about the ability of those Caribbean islands to stage this event from the start and, sadly, my doubts are now coming true. These islands are among the poorest places on the planet and cannot expect to put on a competition involving every cricket nation. Why does ICC even try? Perhaps, like me, they cannot resist the sun, the music, the people, the calypso cricket and the scenery. Sadly, this time I will have to miss out.

May 20: The ECB announce a development squad of 25 players yet the two highest run-scorers in the first class game here are nowhere in sight. What a sad reflection on Graeme Hick, 39, with 128 centuries and nearly 39,000 runs and Mark Ramprakash, 36, who has 70 centuries and almost 27,000 runs. What went wrong 10 years ago when Hick's Test average of 31.32 and Ramprakash's average of 27.32 ought to become figures much more akin to their skills.

May 21: It is not much use trying to compare cricketers or matches or conditions across the years but there cannot be many all-rounders to match the England and Yorkshire star George Hirst, right hand bat with skills on bad pitches and a left arm swerve bowler who is unplayable on pitches with spite. There are plenty of those strips around when he is in his heyday in the last 10 years of the 19th century. Everyone knows he takes 208 wickets at 16.50 and hits 2385 runs at 45.86 in 1906 which is enough to make you gasp at a time when 100 wickets in a season is regarded as remarkable. Judging from the photographs, and particularly one with him standing next to the 6ft Wilfred Rhodes, he is a small man but it seems he has unlimited stamina. Too much for his own good. When he realises he is dying in 1954 he is fond of telling his friends, "As usual I've bowled two overs too many." Well, you may think that 200 wickets and 2000 runs is a shocking statistic but here are two more about this amazing bowler. When he has his benefit match in 1904, 78,000 spectators leave him with �3,703. Not content with that huge amount of cash, by the standards of the day when Yorkshire players earned �5 for a home game and �6 away, but had to pay their own expenses, he coached at Eton for 20 years. Even more astonishingly, those spectators eat a total of 135,000 bananas. Are they on a health kick? Are bananas just easy to carry? Is it a joke? Don't ask what they did with the skins. Anyway, on August 30, a century after the date Hirst completes that double double Yorkshire will hold a celebration, which Fred Trueman will attend if he can. Trueman learns some of his fast bowling tricks from Hirst who never leaves Yorkshire even when he is well past his 80th birthday.