COMPETITIVE cricket has been thin on the ground recently for Worcestershire.

The last Championship match at Headingley was a three-day game and leaves one wondering just how many of the scheduled 68 days of first class cricket Worcester will have played by the end of the season. It is certainly a question which will continue to stoke the debate on the quality of pitches and the success or otherwise of four day cricket in this country.

My biggest concern at the moment is that Glenn McGrath will join Worcestershire as a Second Division side and all his best efforts might be spent lifting the County back into the top division only for him to then miss the next season because of the Ashes tour.

No doubt the Worcester lads will have eyed this possibility as they prepare for their final four games, particularly when Tom Moody misses the first two.

A top nine position would not on its own make this a successful season, but add it to the outstanding performance in the National League and the team could feel pleased with their collective effort.

A good time, therefore, to reflect on the qualities that make Worcestershire a competitive one-day outfit.

I think it would be fair to say that Worcestershire have benefited from the pronounced tendency of the white ball to move around this year, as seen in the World Cup.

Where their lack of outright pace has sometimes left them exposed in the early overs thrash, the undoubted ability of the medium pacers to swing and seam the ball has frequently led to early wickets. That so many of these bowlers are capable batsmen gives the side enviable balance and depth.

This means two specialist spinners can be included without weakening the batting unduly and it means bowlers need only bowl their full nine overs when they are bowling well because of the variety of bowling options open to the captain.

The plethora of seamers and movement available has also led to the tactical shift of Richard Illingworth often bowling at the death. He has coped with this pressure admirably, picking up vital wickets through his unrelenting accuracy.

Ironically, it has been later in the innings with the ball swinging less that Alamgir Sheriyar has come into his own. Bowling fast and straight he as confounded a few critics and shown a significant development in the technical control of his art and of the pressure these late innings situations invariably bring with them.

Add to this the explosive batting of Hick, Moody ad Solanki, the "nous" of others to chip in when needed and brilliant, if occasionally flawed fielding and you have the enduring elements of a competitive one day side. The season looks to be heading towards a tumultuous showdown against Lancashire at New Road on September 19, the last day of the season.

No doubt the cameras will be there then and further thought might be given when the third umpire is called for as to the need, these days, for the second umpire, at least in televised matches. As all line decisions seem to be routinely referred to the third umpire, other than guidance on the height of bouncers, the square leg umpire has been made largely redundant. Perhaps, if all grounds were equipped with suitably positioned cameras, the second umpire could fulfil the third umpire's role in all first class matches, not just the ones which happen to be televised as at present? This might also achieve greater consistency in decision making as a by-product with only one on-field arbitrator and avoid the sometimes embarrassing situation where a bowler will choose to bowl uphill into the wind in order to benefit from a particular umpire!

Monday, August 16, 1999.