So at last we had some cricket at New Road. Mind you, April 22 and the seventh scheduled day of first class cricket is still earlier than most opening days to a season which I have experienced.

I know there are problems fitting everything in with the World Cup but it does cricket's image no good to play in such unfriendly conditions. When Worcestershire fielded at the end of the first day's play in Durham the recorded air temperature was -2 degrees!

It was not much warmer on Thursday afternoon at New Road. I always used to wonder how people caught the ball in the slips in those temperatures. Perhaps there is the incentive of getting off the field when all ten are caught.

Certainly it was fizzing through off a moist but firm surface and Graeme Hick, Vikram Solanki and the gloved Steve Rhodes took some remarkable catches.

If Alex Tudor was the quickest on display, Chris Liptrot was not so far behind and combined this with good away movement. To think that he has come straight from league cricket makes one look forward to what he might achieve. With the newly-organised league cricket season starting this weekend it is a good time to note that a main intention behind the new structure is to prepare players better for entry into first class cricket.

And it all could have been so different for Chris. He wasn't even due to be playing, only returning from a second XI fixture at Bristol because the ground was waterlogged and then finding himself promoted as a result of an illness to Jason de la Pena.

Such opportunities need to be grasped, however, and I was impressed with the uncomplicated approach and energetic deliver. It's always nice to see an innings finished off with an uncompromising yorker, and Alex Tudor might have been quicker, but he won't bowl a better ball than the one with which Chris Liptrot had him pouched by Hicky at slip.

A championship return of 5-50 against a side containing nine internationals cannot be bad. Combined with Elliot Wilson's gutsy knock to save the game against Durham this makes two reasons to be cheerful with the outlook from Worcester's younger players.

With four points now for a draw and only 12 for a win the old incentive to play for a win at almost any cost is no longer there and quite right too I feel. It did produce some exciting finishes and I enjoyed playing in them, but "manufactured" games were essentially one-day cricket and did not produce the quality of cricket which is the ultimate justification of four-day championship cricket.

Sunday will have seen the start of Worcester's one day season with the local derby at Edgbaston. I think the "Worcestershire Royals" is the best name in the competition. I hope they play up to it and I am intrigued to see how the new no ball rule will work out. The idea of a free hit at the following ball is enticing as a batter. I wonder about the bowler who counters this free hit with the perfect yorker only to see it deflect off the stumps to the boundary for four more?

Monday, April 26, 1999