NEW Road on Bank Holiday Monday looked a picture for the home debut of the National League. Amid the sunshine and the bonhomie the cricket almost seemed incidental. Yet a tight game was played out in which Worcestershire pushed Yorkshire hard before being forced to concede the points.

The new names don't yet trip off the tongue, but I think the spectators will get to like this new competition. It retains much of the immediacy of the old Sunday League with a 45 over format, while the home and away fixtures and divisional structure lend it a fiercer competitive edge. There will be much less of the old inclination to rest players on a Sunday, I feel.

Yorkshire look strong this year; literally as well as in quality of players. Where their bowlers could hit the deck hard and exploit whatever there was in the pitch, the home bowlers are still relying more on movement through the air.

Increasingly, it seems that teams are recognising the need to take wickets as the best defence against the fielding restrictions in the opening overs. Yorkshire, even without Darren Gough, are well equipped to do this. Worcestershire's generally slower bowlers are vulnerable, however, particularly if a pitch is allowing a batsman to sit back and pick off any variations in length.

There is seldom much comfort in defeat, but the "Royal" stuck at it. Gavin Haynes and David Leatherdale built the sort of partnership which you look for in a one day situation while Duncan Catterall produced the latest in a series of impressive performances by our young bowlers. Ultimately, though, you could measure the distance between the two teams on their ability to deal with the game within the game - the opening 15 overs.

The next week sees the build up to the World Cup taking centre stage. While Hicky is in Canterbury with the England squad other old friends in the form of the Zimbabwean squad move into Worcester as their base.

They have a competitive international one-day team these days and it will be interesting to see how they shape up. Friday's New Road washout means supporters will be unable to compare them with the Australians, many people's favourites for the competition.

Both games are part of a richly varied fixture list this season at New Road. With two World Cup games to come and tourist matches versus New Zealand and Sri Lanka, there is a distinctly international flavour.

All this, a day/night match and the inclusion of the experimental Cricket Max shows a willingness and a need to acknowledge that cricket must entertain and satisfy public demands if it is to remain a majority spectator sport. It almost feels as if we are moving back towards exhibition-type cricket to satisfy the need for entertainment, help fill the coffers and take the pressure off first class cricket to do either of these things.

As a spectator, I look forward to all this season has to offer. I will be interested to discover how the players themselves feel about it all.

Monday, May 10, 1999.