ONE idea discussed by the ECB this winter was doing away with the toss of the coin in Championship cricket. The visiting side would be allowed choice of innings to prevent the home side from benefiting from pitches prepared to their advantage.

The idea was not approved, however. Perhaps it was seen as one more tradition being given away. Perhaps there is some lingering relish amongst the powers that be for watching sides struggle, battling against the odds, showing true British resolve - it is a situation with which we are certainly familiar.

Whatever the reason, I feel the ECB have failed to grasp the nettle with regard to pitches. At the Professional Cricketers' Association we campaigned for years to get groundsmen employed centrally to share best practice and avoid being leaned on by home captains to produce result pitches. We were told it was "not practical".

There is no suggestion that the pitch in Durham was doctored. The day after a snowfall I reckon most pitches would favour ball more than bat and so it proved. This will be a difficult season for Worcestershire. I do not think anyone should be under any illusions on that score. Realistic goal-setting is important. A top half finish in the Championship and a place in the following year's first division would be both a realistic and worthy ambition.

They will need good fortune and a good start. Neither were forthcoming at Durham. The loss of an important toss compounded the loss of Gavin Haynes and Reuben Spiring to injuries in the run-up to this opening game. A hundred in an internal practice match had seemed to signal Reuben's rehabilitation from the knee injury which caused him to miss last season. Sadly, though, all is not fully right with the knee yet and his return will have to be delayed. Gavin has an injured back and his absence leaves the side looking a little unbalanced. Certainly, "Sherry" is in danger of getting vertigo at the elevated position of number 9.

The result at Oxford was encouraging. Jason de la Pena's wicket haul was well-deserved. It is to be hoped that he becomes one of those rare breed of cricketers who finally find success after a number of false starts.

Monday April 19, 1999