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Northamptonshire v Yorkshire, County Ground, Pre-season friendly, 8th April 2014

Sadly (this is becoming something of a theme) I was not at Leicester on Tuesday to watch the postponed game against Derbyshire and I’m not at Wantage Road today to watch the first match of Northants’ season against Durham.  Leicestershire no longer have a reciprocal membership agreement with Northants and, in these times of austerity, £14.00 entrance plus £9.00 bus fare means I shall have to be more selective in my visits to the County Ground.  Which is a shame, because I’m rather fond of the old place.

I was pleased to see that the new 20/20 slogan “Glory, Honour, Pride” (which sounds too much like some dubious East European political grouping to my ears) was not much in evidence.  I’ve never been that fond of “Steelbacks” either, come to think of it, and wonder whether “Welcome to orthans icket : Home of County” (which is how most refer to them) might not be more appropriate to the spirit of Northamptonshire cricket.

 

Orthans icket

It’s always a good principle that you can’t play cricket seriously without the proper kit (there is really nothing worse than being clouted round the ground by a bloke in black trousers and a  New York Yankees cap) and it was an indication that Yorkshire weren’t going to be going all out when they took to the field in wooly hats.  The effect varied. Jack Brooks, who, under all the hair, has a rather rural face, looked Compo-esque; the ever-stylish Moin Ashraf, in a nod to Ali G., teamed his with some wraparound sun-goggles.

Moin Ashraf

The day was bright, but perishingly cold.  We spectators could keep out of the wind by flattening ourselves against the hoardings like bugs against a windscreen but for those on the pitch there was no escape.  The sensible policy seemed for both sides to concentrate on getting through to the start of the season proper without pulling a muscle or fracturing a frozen digit.  Jack Brooks bowled off six paces, Ashraf was more aesthetic than energetic and Middlebrook and Kettleborough (two villages in Last of the Summer Wine Country) compiled their runs at the rate of a man collecting a part-work history of World War 2.

This seeming not-too-much-aggression pact, however, reckoned without Liam Plunkett, who, after a restrained start, began to bowl in the manner familiar from his Test appearances, fastish, with the occasional nasty lifter and some wild stuff down the legside.  One of the former broke the finger of Rob Keogh and one of the latter evened up the score by doing the same for his own wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow.

 

Johnny Bairstow

Even allowing for the relative talents of the players, this will have been a bigger blow to Northants than Yorkshire.  It is going to be a long, attritional, old season, with the constant distraction of 20/20 on Friday evenings and Northants do not have a big squad.  On the other hand Yorkshire’s squad is, as Jack Brooks observed in this week’s Cricket Paper

“Unbelievably strong … the important thing is the depth: take out all the England players, Tim Bresnan, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance, and it doesn’t weaken the team.”

It’s a slightly unfortunate side-effect of this strength that one or two potential internationals might be tempted to move counties to gain the proper recognition.  Alex Lees is not guaranteed a first-team place (he was left out last season in favour of Kane Williamson), Moin Ashraf is rarely seen in the Championship and Azeem Rafiq (who is a better bowler than most being suggested to succeed Graeme Swann) is rarely selected ahead of Adil Rashid.

Rashid, it has to be said, has recently been in the team more for his batting than his bowling, which has degenerated into something of a joke.  In this match, though, he was given a long spell (perhaps to avoid any more broken fingers) and, after a couple of overs of the familiar dross he seemed, as the wind dropped and he donned a proper Yorkshire cap, to be recovering some of his old brio.  There was turn and lift and flight where once there were full tosses, he fretted less and strutted more.  I’m tempted to wish him well for an England recall, but then – with the way things are – I’m equally tempted, for his sake, to hope that he can avoid the nod of doom and play out his days for a happy and victorious Yorkshire.

(I’m not a great fan of floodlights at cricket grounds when employed for their proper purpose, by the way, but I can’t deny that they have added something to the variations as the shadows fall across the pitch as the summer progresses and recedes.  Wantage Road won’t see a sight quite like this at teatime for a while.)

 

 

Floodlight

 

Leicestershire v Northamptonshire, Grace Road, Pre-Season Friendly, 1st April 2014

Well, here’s an early lesson in not looking too far ahead, not to mention gathering rosebuds while I may, carpe-ing the diem and so on.  I have not spent the day, as I had predicted, at Grace Road watching the first day of the County Championship because the match against Derbyshire has been postponed, following the death of the Derbyshire wicket-keeper’s father in a car crash.

I did, however, make it there for the first day of the Friendly against Northants, which, following my new policy of lowered expectations, I would have to say was pleasant enough.  By 11.30 Leicestershire were 16-2 as usual, all was right with the world and it was if the close season had been but a bad dream.  I won’t dwell for too long on the century by new signing Dan Redfern (new signings have flattered to deceive too often before) or allow myself to speculate  that if we could find a settled and solid opening pair and a true strike bowler we would have a decent side (true though that might be).

I would observe that Northants, with last season’s match winner Trent Copeland back in Australia, his replacement Jackson Bird and Alex Wakely already out for the season, and David Willey still sidelined with a lower back injury (a pain in the arse for any seamer, as I know from experience) may struggle.  Maurice Chambers could be bowling an awful lot of overs and on this showing quite a fewof them could end up deposited over cow corner.

But here’s one to watch, or at least one who’s hard to avoid watching if he’s fielding in front of you and a trend to keep an eye on for the coming season.  “The Cricket Paper” led this week on the state of Ned Eckersley’s beard, which he claims he grew “out of boredom” during a five month stay in Australia over the Winter.  The story is accompanied by a photograph which makes him look a little like Ashurbarnipal, the late Emperor of the Assyrians.

As any major dude will tell you, this hirsuteness has been in fashion among the cognoscenti for some time now, and looks poised to make a big impact on this year’s County Championship.  We could see more beards on show than in the early ’80s heyday of Peter Willey, Mike Gatting and Dave Podmore.  Aside from Eckersley, Northants slow left armer Graeme White, returning home after a spell with Nottinghamshire, has adopted a look half way between David Beckham and a young King George V.  He has two poses in the field (which is where he spends most of his time) – one with his hands in his pockets

 

Graeme White 1

and the other stroking his beard.

 

Graeme White 2

This gives the impression that he is deep in thought, ruminating on cunning plans for the batsmen when he is brought on to bowl, but I suspect the truth is that his beard has reached the stage where it itches like fury and he is either scratching it or keeping his hands in his pockets to stop him doing so.

I shall follow his progress with interest and will be interested to see whether the beard is still there come September.  My money’s against it.

 

Another instead-of-a-post post, I’m afraid.

This is the last week I shall (weather permitting) have no live cricket to write about.  Leicestershire are beginning their season with a very “soft launch” involving a 2-day friendly against Northamptonshire on Tuesday and I hope to be there.  This time next week I shall be having the novel (and not entirely welcome) experience of watching the first day of a Championship match on a Sunday.  Whether I will find the time or inclination to write about these I know not.  The prospects for Leicestershire, this blog and Yours Truly are uncertain at present and I don’t think I’ve ever approached a season (or a Spring) with lower expectations.

But perhaps that is for the best.  I am conscious of expecting far too much from cricket and if I do happen to be Surprised by Joy at any point during the season that will be more than the sane man could reasonably expect.

Meanwhile, as the clocks go forward, a last look back at Winter and another view across the Cemetery at a tea-time post-match sunset (this time after a 6-0 home defeat by AFC Rushden and Diamonds).  I don’t want to tempt fate, but I’m not sure even Leicestershire will be able to top that one in the ignominy stakes.  But then they never fail to surprise me, one way or another.

 

Northampton Road Cemetery March 2014

 

No time for proper blogging today – alas! – but here is a snapshot of Winter passing into Spring (as I make other plans).  This is the view of Market Harborough cemetery from Northampton Road on my way back from the Rugby, last Saturday and this.  It will be Autumn before the sun is at this angle at that time again and the quality of the light will be quite different.

Northampton Road Cemetery March 2014

Northampton Road Cemetery March 2014

Northampton Road Cemetery March 2014

The inscription on the large headstone to the right of the picture is from Tennyson (Alfred, not Lionel) and reads

Then let wise Nature work her will,

And on my clay her darnels grow,

Come only when the days are still,

And at my head-stone whisper low,

And tell me if the woodbines blow.

I wonder how many passers-by have paused to read this over the years (and how many of them have been able to answer the question?).

More guessing games.  What we’re looking for here is the year, though extra points are available for:

a) The author

b) X and Y

c) The County

All three were England players, X and the narrator occasionals, Y a regular.  X and Y were both senior County professionals.  As a guide, the average salary for a County cricketer is now somewhere between £40,000 and £100,000 a year and the minimum England central contract is worth – at a conservative estimate – well over £200,000 p.a..

“Making ends meet is a constant worry for most cricketers, particularly those with a family and a mortgage.  Only two —–shire players are paid more than £10,000 a year – and I am not one of them.  The club’s argument is that you are being paid for six months’ work, so you have another six months to double your pay.  It’s a great theory … In reality players end up doing all kinds of dead end jobs to see them through the winter, assuming they can get a job at all.  X has worked in a quarry in the past, but last winter he was on the dole.  So was Y.  I spent one winter driving a lorry … and almost killed myself when the steering failed on a steep bend.  The only way to get the old thing up to 40 miles an hour was to stand up with all your weight on the accelerator.  After a bit you get tired so you swapped feet.  Another year I knocked windows together for a local manufacturing company. It was so boring.

Financially, the only place to be is in the England squad.  Test players earn nearly £2,000 a match and around £15,000 for a tour.  It’s a different league.”

I would dearly love to be able to provide the answers upside down at the bottom of this piece, but that doesn’t seem to be possible, so I shall append them shortly.

(Answers now provided below, courtesy of Brian Carpenter.)

Fairfield Road March 2014

Read carefully the following passage, taken from a speech by the writer J.M. Barrie (delivered to the Australian Test XI and others in 1926).

“Let us not forget, especially at this time, that the great glory of cricket does not lie in Test Matches, nor county championships, nor Sheffield Shields, but rather on village greens, the cradle of cricket.  The Tests are but the fevers of the game.  As the years roll on they become of small account, something else soon takes their place, the very word may be forgotten; but long, long afterwards, I think, your far-off progeny will still of summer afternoons hear the crack of the bat, and the local champion calling for his ale on the same old bumpy wickets.

It has been said of the unseen army of the dead, on their everlasting march, that when they are passing a rural cricket ground the Englishman falls out of the ranks for a moment to look over the gate and smile.  The Englishman, yes, and the Australian.  How terrible if those two had to rejoin their comrades feeling that we were no longer playing the game!

Q1) Provide a brief summary of the meaning of this passage and describe briefly your feelings about it.  Do you think the date is particularly significant?

Here are two comments about the passage by later writers:

“He spills over into mawkish excess.”1

Q2A)  Do you think this is a reasonable comment?  Would you agree that the passage is “mawkish” or excessive? Give reasons.

Q2B) The author goes on to say: “The ranks of the unseen dead were soon to be unnaturally swollen.” Given the date of the passage, do you find this puzzling?

“Like many inter-war cricket writers, Barrie’s speech positions the contemporary practice of Test cricket within a broader discourse of cultural crisis by defining it as little more than a part of ephemeral modernity. Against this fallen image of impermanence, village cricket signifies sameness, not only through history, but across geographical space, a quality that endows this auratic English locale with an imperial dimension.  This generic location possesses not only an ability to transcend imperial space, but can enforce a diachronic conformity in which past and present merge into one.  The aesthetic space of the rural cricket field can thus imaginatively obviate the violent separations of war.  Such synoptic imperial imagery had specific resonances at this time.”2

Q3A) Provide brief definitions of “auratic”, “diachronic” and “synoptic“.

Q3B) Do you feel that you have learned anything about cricket (as distinct from the British Empire) by reading this?

Q4) If you happened to be passing a rural cricket field, do you think you would break ranks to look over the gate?  If so, do you think you would smile?

Q5) Do you understand now? Comprendo? Comprenez-vous?

(1. Derek Birley, A Social history of English cricket.)

(2. Anthony Bateman, Cricket, literature and culture : symbolising the nation, destabilising Empire.)

A month or so before the season starts, which ought to be a time for cautious optimism.  Here we see our local groundsman optimistically mowing the pitch during a brief spell of sunshine last weekend, before the foul weather returned.

Little Bowden Rec

It is also traditionally a time for cautious pessimism about the future of County Cricket.

Would anyone care to hazard a date for this (from “The Times“)?

County Cricket on Trial

From A Correspondent

The cricket season proper opened quietly on Saturday, and the very fact that several counties are changing their usual programme and starting games on Wednesdays and Saturdays, instead of Mondays and Thursdays, proves that the public are, at last, to be recognised rather than the players.  Whether the experiment makes for the good of the game is a moot point; and whether it will “draw” the apparently reluctant public is another.

This season sees county cricket trembling in the balance, for without popular support it must die.  Cricket is voted dull nowadays because there are not the overwhelming personalities on every county side that spectators have been accustomed to in great matches.

Unfortunately, at the present moment there does not seem to be the same “county spirit” as there used to be.  Perhaps it is owing to the fact that people have to work more strenuously than they had to 20 years ago.  They are still keen to know how the cricket of the day is going, but they do not turn up in numbers, and numbers mean gate-money, and gate-money means everything to a county.

First class cricket is no spectacular game now; nor can it ever be again … “

And so on.  With a few minor tweaks, it could be from any Spring in the last hundred years, but is actually from May 1914.  But, however gloomy “A Correspondent” may have felt about the future of County Cricket at the time of writing, what wouldn’t he have given to have been in a position to write something similar the following year and what a joy it must have been to be able to settle down in the Spring of 1919 to bash out once again his old familiar Jeremiad! (“2 Day Cricket Not the Solution!“)

Having said that, not all Cricket Correspondents allowed the small matter of a World War to interrupt their enjoyment of the game, as this curious photograph demonstrates.  This is the irrepressible E.H.D. Sewell, sometime ghost to W.G., inventor of leg-slip and author of “Rugger : the man’s game“.  The original caption reads “The author – muzzled at last!  A memory of 1916, when we were told to take gas masks (?) to matches.”

"Muzzled at last!" E.H.D. Sewell (1916)

(I have to say that doesn’t look much like a gas mask to me, or at least not a very effective one.  Only goes to show the lengths some people will go to get a game of cricket, I suppose.)

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