While you were away
FRANK KEATING This corner has already broken its fundamental annual rule not to get worked up about football till the clocks are altered at the end of this month — there is ample time ahead to concentrate on soccer's unending imbroglio of speculation, satisfaction and scandal — and any number of faraway correspondents write to say they relish the seasons being topped and tailed with some shafts of basic information. In providing a few for you distant Spectator subscribers, I'm warmed by the memory of the late Peter Cook telling me how, as a schoolboy on summer hols from Radley at his father's distant colonial service outpost in West Africa, the Times would be delivered, chuggingly by sea, in back-number batches, which Cookpere would ration himself, in date order, to a single copy a day. No matter the news was weeks out of date, the family could still be roused at the breakfast table by the father delightedly exclaiming: 'Terrific! Worcestershire look like beating Surrey at the Oval!' Although the following day's paper was top of the large pile next to him, he'd still wait till next morning's breakfast to see if Worcestershire actually did win.
In gold leaf on county cricket's 2007 honours board are Sussex, champions for the third time in five years. Durham won the oneday final; Somerset and Nottinghamshire were promoted, rainswept Worcestershire and Warwickshire relegated; Cheshire were minor counties' top dogs. Peerless Mark Ramprakash again topped 2,000 runs, almost 700 more than the next two boot-fillers, England absentee Marcus Trescothick of Somerset, and Northamptonshire's ever staunch David 'Jumble' Sales. Leading wickettaker, with 90, was again Sussex's twirler-mystic, Mushtaq Ahmed, ten ahead of Durham's astonishing Barbadian Otis Gibson; and the champions' Robin Martin-Jenkins, son of his father, was probably the most decisively effective all-rounder. Sportswriter of the year has to be Steve James, doubling up his singularly unmissable stuff for the Sunday Telegraph and, daily, the Guardian at the World Cup, Test matches, the full county round, and now sprinkling pearls, adjectives, and knowing insights all over the world's rugby in France.
James was Glamorgan's swarthily solemn, four-square senior pro when, well over a dozen years ago, I was dispatched across the Dyke to run the rule over, apparently, the Welsh county's glaringly dud acquisition of a West Indian overseas 'star'. Bounding, beaming Otis could scarcely land the ball on the cut part of the pitch and, with the bat, he slogged when he should have blocked and blocked when he should have slogged. He was soon on his way, after which, still smiling, Gibson crisscrossed the world, playing for anyone and everyone who'd give him a game (including two or three English counties, and even his native West Indies a few times), all the while loving his game, cherishing it and, crucially, meticulously learning it. This month, at 38, Gibson is rounding off his blazing Durham summer as one of the England team's national coaches on the tour in Sri Lanka. A terrific story.
Another affable goodie sadly signs off from the circuit's unending safari this month. Umpire Roy Palmer has had more than 40 successive summers 'at the cricket'. Why have the most benign and conciliatory umps always come from Wessex? I remember Roy's first Test match at Old Trafford. At once, England's Devon Malcolm and Pakistan's Aaqib Javed petulantly squared up to each other. No probs — Roy stepped in with, as Wisden was to report nine months later, 'all the dignity of a patient village policeman settling a family quarrel'.