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There seems to be something of a fashion at the moment for animals to invade sporting arenas.  A few days ago several observers reported that there was an unexpected shirehorse in the penalty area at Steel Park, home of Corby Town F.C.. During what little I saw of the national T20 Finals Day on TV there appeared to be a mass pitch invasion by an astonishing rabble of squirrels, sharks, dragons and God knows what else.  Then on Sunday, when I happened to be watching the finals of a village T20 competition in the grounds of Thorpe Lubenham Hall, I witnessed a pitch intrusion (I’m reluctant to say invasion, as the animal had as much right to be there as anyone) by what I took to be a stallion belonging to Sir George, the Hall’s owner. A fine looking animal, to my untrained eye.

At first the players reacted as most cricketers would, by adopting the double teapot position and the fielding side insisting the Umpires call “dead ball” (the batsmen had run a couple while they were distracted).  Various tentative efforts were made to steer the horse in the direction of the exit, until a player from the batting side (said to have experience of horses) was located.  He persuaded it to leave, with a little help (or hindrance) from a yappy Jack Russell. Presumably, in line with ECB regulations, it will in future be excluded from all English cricket grounds for life.

Horse at Lubenham 1

Horse at Lubenham 2

Horse at Lubenham 3

Horse at Lubenham 4

 

Horse at Lubenham 5

It did occur to me that, to raise the tone a little, this animal might be introduced on to the pitch during the next national T20 Finals Day in place of all those sharks, dragons and squirrels.  Or perhaps, as suggested by Jonathan Calder of Liberal England (see Leicestershire Life to your right), a couple of the TMS team in a pantomime horse costume?  If I’d had the presence of mind on Sunday I might have tackled the beast to the ground myself and tried to remove its head, just to make sure it didn’t have Michael Vaughan inside it.  With fatal results for one of us, no doubt.

 

The Spirit Is Weak

An interesting and varied August so far, with glimpses of the Spirit of Cricket as far afield at Radlett and Hove.  I shall report shortly (or perhaps, given that, in the Winter, I have more time and no cricket to watch, less shortly).  I did try (honestly)  to write about yesterday’s game at Grace Road between Leicestershire and Surrey, but realised that I was boring even myself so, frankly, I gave up.

Instead, here are a couple of interim Spirit of Cricket Awards.  Firstly to this splendid man (perhaps a Surrey fan) who spent the day happily absorbed in doing something or other with this strange box-like contraption, made out of painted cardboard and sticks. It appeared to be a scoring device of his own invention, or perhaps some kind of home-made orgone accumulator but, whatever it was, it seemed to be giving him great pleasure.  I salute his achievement in the face of what was a very dull match.

 

Man with box

My second award goes to this opening batsman.  Scenting a score against some moderate bowling he is trying to persuade the opposing Captain to resume play in driving rain.  Happily for him, play resumed shortly afterwards.  Unhappily, he was soon out.

 

Little Bowden Rec Aug 2014

It’s a funny old game, you know, cricket.

Northants 2nd XI v Sussex 2nd XI, Finedon Dolben CC

Bedfordshire CCC v Cambridgeshire CCC, Bedford Modern School

Leicestershire v Derbyshire, Royal London Cup, Grace Road

Leicestershire 2nd XI v Warwickshire 2nd XI, Grace Road

(all July 2014)

“Sit on the Mound Stand at Lord’s on midsummer morning at noon, and if the sun be ample and you close your eyes for a while you will see a vision of all the cricket fields in England at that very minute; it is a vision of the game’s rich seasonal yield; a vision of green spaces over our land, of flashing bats, of thudding, convulsive bowlers, and men in white alone in the deep or bent low in the slips.”

I have quoted that passage (from “The Summer Game” by Neville Cardus) before.  It describes an experience that he that hath understanding of that vexatious phrase “the Spirit of Cricket” will have had at least once (perhaps as often as once a season, if they’re lucky), even if he (or she) might be shy of admitting it.  English cricketers may, as Bernard Shaw once unintentionally pointed out, be unspiritual people, but cricket does occasionally allow them a glimpse of, if not eternity exactly, a kind of seemingly infinite simultaneity.

Of course it’s not necessary to sit in the Mound Stand at Lord’s on midsummer morning to summon the Spirit of Cricket (she is that not that local or particular a Deity).  If I were to try to summon her deliberately I’d have a couple of pints at lunchtime on a sunny day and sit in the stand on the roof of the Charles Palmer Suite (which usually does the trick).  But at the beginning of the month I was surprised to be surprised by the Spirit in what is, almost literally, my own backyard, the Little Bowden Recreation Ground.

At the end of an overcast day which had turned brilliant to the point of hallucination towards evening I made a slight detour on my way home and chanced upon the time-honoured closing stages of a close encounter (the last man, the last over, the winning run, the handshake, the pub).

Little Bowden Rec July 2014

No doubt it was merely a trick of the light (at close to what photographers call the “golden hour”) but at that moment the two elevens seemed to contain all cricketers everywhere and of all time, stretching back to Hambledon and beyond.

Of course, it is the curse of visionaries (think of Rat in “the Wind in the Willows”, for instance, or even Julian of Norwich) that they cannot convey in words the substance of their visions to those who haven’t shared them, which is why it is generally wiser not to attempt it.  But something of that feeling has remained with me through the month and lent a sense of unity to what are, on the face of it, unrelated happening and sights …

… Nathan Buck attempting to score off a last over bouncer from Mark Footitt …

Young Buck

… some natty duck-egg blue sight screens at Finedon Dolben …

Finedon 1

(the batsman is Samit Patel’s brother Akhil, seen here leaving the pitch looking pained after narrowly missing his century)

Akhil Patel

… a tree in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin, which overlooks the ground at Finedon (and where at lunchtime the incumbent, the popular radio evangelist the Rev. Richard Coles was supervising the raising of the bellows) …

Finedon Churchyard

… a Cambridgeshire player (who I think embodies the Spirit of Amateurism as much as anything) tucking his trousers into what appear to be (Harlequins?) rugby socks …

Bedford 1 (socks)

… the same displaying a broadness of beam in the slips not seen in the professional game since the heyday of Cowdrey, Milburn and Sharpe …

Bedford 3 (slips)

… a World War II bomber that passed low over the field at Bedford in the late afternoon …

Bedford (2) bomber

and even the poor, much abused alleyway that leads to Grace Road …

Grace Rd alleyway

… until, as the month ends, the skies darken and the outfield parches, Barrow Town’s Stan once again hit out boldly in the closing overs …

Stan Fairfield Rd Aug 2014

So, Lo! - do you see? – it all coheres!  Well no, of course, it doesn’t really cohere at all, but sometimes – do you see? – it just seems to for a moment.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s a fine Summer evening, and there might be some cricket still going on somewhere in the vicinity …

(On a more sober note, future England watchers should make a note of the name Sam Hain, who took advantage of the new 50 over format to build a substantial century for Warwicks 2nd XI at Grace Rd. last week.  The new Ian Bell, mark my words, unless he changes his mind and decides he’s Australian again.)

Northamptonshire v Somerset, Wantage Road, County Championship, 12th July 2014

The second time I’ve been to Northampton for a first-class match this season and the second time they ended the first day on at least equal terms with superior opposition (only to lose heavily).  This is perhaps not unconnected to both Yorkshire and Somerset having played a T20 at home on the Friday evening before travelling to Northampton for a 12.00 start on the Saturday.  This would, of course, have only affected those who played both games, not including Marcus Trescothick, unexpectedly left out for the T20 fixture.  What was the story there?  I don’t know.

I’m not sure I remember much of the Marcus Trescothick story since he left that tour of India in 2007 (so long ago!) to be replaced by Alastair Cook.  I know he has made runs consistently for Somerset, with an annus mirabilis in 2009 (I think) but a gentle decline over the last couple of years.  This season he has rallied and on Saturday made his fourth first class century of the season (without ever looking particularly at ease).  He is now 38, with 55 first class centuries (and 28 in limited overs) to his name.  Somerset have won nothing, but have come second in all three competitions at at various times (all in the same year in 2010, under his Captaincy).

Tempting, if futile, to speculate on what might have happened had Trescothick not left that tour.  Might he, not Pietersen, have taken over the Captaincy of England from Flintoff?  Would Cook’s entry into Test cricket have been long delayed, or might he have displaced Andrew Strauss?  Would Pietersen still be playing, would Cook be Captain?  The what-ifs are innumerable, but it’s safe to assume that Trescothick’s career would have ended a few years ago (in tears like Vaughan or with a whiff of acrimony like Strauss) and he would not now still be plying his trade in the decent obscurity of Wantage Road.

A couple of incidents on Saturday would, had they occurred in a Test, have been subjected to microscopic examination on TV and amplification from every kind of media.  A ball from David Willey (who looks to be back close to his full pace, encouragingly for England but too late for Northants) struck Craig Kieswetter full in the face.  He was felled so instantly and dramatically that even Willey looked panicked.  A groundsman wandered on with what looked discouragingly like a giant dustpan and brush but was sawdust with which to soak up the blood on the wicket.

 

Kieswetter

A few minutes later Kieswetter’s replacement, Trego, seemed to have been caught at slip by Andrew Hall off Willey’s bowling.  The Umpires seemed unsure whether the catch had been taken cleanly and were disinclined to take Hall’s word for it.  Trego , similarly minded, remained unmoved.

 

Will Trego or will he stay?

With Kieswetter’s blood still wet at the crease, Willey and Trego (normally two of the “feistier” characters on the circuit) seemed disinclined to make much of the incident and even those in the crowd who held strong views were soon distracted by the announcement that real ale left over from Wednesday’s Tom Jones concert was being sold off for £2.00 a pint (and very good it was too).

Without slow motion replays, closeups and allied technologies it was, of course, impossible for anyone in the crowd to form an informed opinion as to whether the catch had been cleanly taken or not.  As I sipped my pint of Sunchaser  (in a Tom Jones commemorative mug) round the back of the Steffans stand I fell to musing as to whether cricket is really seen more truly under the microscope of TV than via the panoramic view from the stands.  Is a butterfly better understood on a slide than on a flower? (Powerful stuff, that Sunchaser.)

I wondered too whether Trescothick ever envies the man who took his place all those years ago?  Might he not (illnesses aside) be happier away from the limelight where the cameras are generally in the hands of friends and admirers?

Trescothick's 100

Would he rather be examined this closely?

Trescothick

Or as closely as this?

 

Alistair Cook

 

Leicestershire v India, Grace Road, 28 June 2014

Leicestershire 2nd XI v Worcestershire 2nd XI, Grace Road, 1st July 2014

DSCF6113

As a change from games overshadowed by the landscape or the elements, here is one overshadowed by the crowd. There was a crowd worthy of the name, for one thing, about three-quarters capacity, I’d say, enough to create an, as they say, vibrant atmosphere, but not so full that I had to remain rooted to my allocated seat and unable to circulate, and Duncan Fletcher’s insistence on making the game into 18 of India against 14 of Leicestershire had effectively reduced it to an exhibition match.

In the past, I’ve had mixed experiences with representative and tourist games at Grace Road.  The game against Australia in 2005 was a bilious, lager-soused affair, much of the bile being secreted by “England fans”, scenting an early taste of Australian blood.  A game against Pakistan (though there was less lager involved) was similarly fractious.  As I reported last year, a visit from the England Lions involved such an army of ECB chino-clad functionaries with lanyards round their necks, security men with walkie-talkies, and sundry camp followers commandeering the ground that those few of the Leicestershire faithful who’d turned up felt we being evicted from our home ground by our own national team.

It has to be said that many of the regulars were notable by their absence against India : some resented having to pay an entrance fee on top of their membership, some didn’t want to watch an exhibition match, some simply preferred (it being a Saturday) to watch their clubs and some (including some of those who did turn up) objected to being excluded from the inner sanctum of the Charles Palmer Suite to make way for what appeared to be the Great and Good of the local Indian community, who also had a chance to meet the players.  They might, too, have objected to the Indians being allowed to use the home changing rooms.

I have to say that the Indian presence felt less obtrusive than that of the ECB last year.  The stewarding was fairly relaxed, the Indians seem to travel comparatively light in terms of support staff and, if I’d felt so inclined, I would have been close enough to have offered M.S. Dhoni* (after all, one of world’s most famous sportsmen) a high five (though I managed to restrain myself).

 

DSCF6087

And, given the demand, (Dhoni is in the middle of this lot somewhere) I thought the Indians made a reasonable effort to make themselves available to their own supporters.

DSCF6120

Having said that, although the crowd gave the impression of being mostly “India supporters” it was noticeable that a substantial proportion of them appeared to be supporting both sides at once (as, indeed, why wouldn’t they, given that they mostly live in Leicestershire and, in many cases, have grown up playing for and watching Leicestershire clubs?).  Partly for that reason I can rarely remember feeling part of such a harmonious crowd at a large sporting event.

Inevitably, play was interrupted for a couple of hours by rain and it was good to see that the Indian community have adapted so well to the English custom of not allowing a bit of rain to spoil a Good Day Out.  I have written before that any English event held in the Summer aspires to the condition of a Village Fete and all the old faithfuls were available here: the lads getting pissed at the beer tent, face painting,  temporary tattoos (a luminous Virat Kohli was doing well).  Trays of chips doused in tomato sauce were selling like hot cakes and we were treated to displays of dancing by local youth.  The juniors gave us “We are India” to the tune of the Gap Band’s “Upside Your Head”

DSCF6097

and the seniors what appeared to be a fusion of classical dance with the faintest hint of twerking.

DSCF6112

Shades of my Blackpool and my Seaside Special of long ago.  And if you couldn’t get to have your picture taken with M.S. Dhoni there was always Kali “the Destroyer” Fox.

DSCF6103

On the field, there was a selection box of rusty Indian fast bowlers on view.  As none of them bowled for very long the best I can do is to report that P. Singh is enormous (and could have a career in films playing giant bodyguards and warriors) but largely harmless, as is Ishant Sharma, whereas B. Kumar and (particularly) Mohammed Shami looked more threatening.  None of them posed too many problems for Angus Robson and Greg Smith and it was a pity that their centuries (both “retired out” at tea) don’t have first class status.

DSCF6107

Whether Angus’s big brother et al. will find it as easy to score off this fairly moderate bowling remains to be seen, though, if not, it does suggest that there is something about playing for England that makes batsmen lower rather than raise their games.

Angus Robson was back at Grace Road on Tuesday, in front of a much smaller crowd (consisting, in fact, of the members who had been absent on Saturday). Playing for Tooze against Worcestershire 2nd XI, he was bowled first ball.  As I’ve suggested before, the gradient between the game’s pinnacle and its lower slopes is not, perhaps, as steep as is generally supposed.

Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang ...

Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang …

* I think. Hard to recognise without his sunglasses.

Leicestershire v Derbyshire and Worcestershire, Grace Road, County Championship, June 2014

So, how has June been?  Looking back at the photographs I’ve taken, it seems to have been a very green month (in fact I don’t think I can remember a greener) with some blues and some awesome (in the non American teen sense) cloud formations.  The cricketers seem to have been a detail, more a pretext than a subject.

DSCF6007

But then the cricket itself has become a little predictable.  Leicestershire have now played 8 Championship matches, have won 0, lost 4 and drawn 4.  As suggested by their haul of bonus points (41, more than all but the two top sides, Hampshire and Worcestershire, who have both played one match more) they have not been playing badly.  Four of the top 20 run-scorers in the division come from Leicestershire, as do 2 of the top 20 wicket-takers.  Apart from the first-day fiasco against Kent, they have been on at least equal terms by the end of day 2, and mostly still in the hunt by the end of day 3.  But still we are bottom of the table.

My new routine – to attend on a Sunday and a Tuesday – means that, as there’s been a merciful absence of rain, I generally see the same side bat twice.  Against Derbyshire, it was Leicestershire, against Worcestershire it was the opposition.  In both cases the first day was encouraging.  Against Derbyshire, Leicestershire recovered from 11-3 to 311, in the face of some lively bowling from Footitt and Palladino.  Against Worcestershire, some lively bowling of our own from an all-pace attack removed the top-of-the-tablers for 237.

On the two third days I caught the end of a century from Derbyshire’s no. 8, David Wainwright and then saw him take 5 quick wickets to reduce Leicestershire to 113-6.  A workmanlike cricketer from Pontefract, whose baggy cap gives him the air of a young Gilbert O’Sullivan, he may never before have been cheered off the field twice in a day

DSCF6021

and may never be again.  Against Worcester I saw our all-pace attack struggle on a pitch that was starting to take spin, another century for Daryl Mitchell and a maiden ton for young Tom Fell.  On the last days, in my absence, Derbyshire knocked off the target of 188 for the loss of a single wicket and Ajmal, predictably, took 6-19.  The losing margins were 9 wickets and 234 runs respectively.

So, those are the facts, but what it is to be done?  I don’t know.  It might help if Ronnie Sarwan were to relinquish the Captaincy in favour of Josh Cobb (or, since I don’t know the players well enough to make that kind of judgement, anyone else who has a genuine ambition to Captain a successful Leicestershire side – Rob Taylor, perhaps).  As I write, we have finished on roughly equal terms after the first day against Surrey at the Oval and there really isn’t any good reason why we shouldn’t win that or any other match.  But then reason, as my good friend the Gnome was pointing out just the other day, doesn’t seem to have much to do with it.

The littleness of human existence is an odd lesson to take away from a game of cricket, but then what other opportunities are there in modern life to spend seven hours comparing a spectacle of human striving with the vastness of the vaults of heaven (so to speak)?  And at three in the morning in January, dreaming of Flaming June at the cricket, what is it that I’m thinking of?  Whether Matt Boyce can ever truly establish him at the top of the order, or this?

DSCF6013

or this?

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A Gnome comments:

Gnome 2

Scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren’t you?  Midsummer madness, I calls it …

 

Another Sunday spent watching County Cricket instead of blogging, or, indeed, going to Church.  It did occur to me, in a week when no-one with an ounce of sense has been debating the relationship between cricket and religion, that Jack Hobbs would have felt unable to appear in the County Championship at all under the current arrangements.  As an expiation of sorts, here is an XI who might have felt equally uneasy about turning out on the Sabbath.  What we are looking for here is cricketing ability combined with a more than purely conventional Christian observance.  I did think of including Yousuf Youhana, but I believe he is no longer available.

1. Jack Hobbs (Surrey, England & C. of E.)

Described by John Arlott as “the best man I ever knew in my life … There was something almost Christ-like about him, there really was.”  His faith was generally unobtrusive and only came into conflict with his profession when touring India and Ceylon with the Maharajah of Vizianagram’s XI, when he declined to play on a Sunday.  The Maharajah respected his wishes and rescheduled the games so that Sunday was a rest day.  “I owe him a tremendous debt for his kindness” commented Hobbs.

2. Louis Hall (Yorkshire & the Methodists)

When Lord Hawke took over the Captaincy of Yorkshire in 1886 he inherited “nine drunks and one Methodist lay preacher“.  That man was the marvellously lugubrious Louis Hall, described by Hawke as “a strict teetotaller, the first who ever played for Yorkshire”.   “Of angular build, painfully thin and severe of expression, Hall stood apart from his fellows” (according to Hawke’s biographer). He was known (for some reason) as “the Batley Giant”, stood 5’10” tall and was the first of a long line of obdurate Yorkshire openers.  (Some might opt for Matthew Hayden as an opening partner for Hobbs, but that wouldn’t allow me to reproduce this wonderful portrait …)

Louis Hall

3. Right Revd. David Sheppard (Sussex, England & C. of E.)

Might not necessarily qualify for the side on the grounds on playing ability alone, but assuming that we are playing against representatives of some other religion, I feel his emollient and open-minded approach might help to cast oil on troubled waters, should the need arise.  “He was the subject of ‘This is your life” in 1960 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the Islington Boys’ Club” according to Wikipedia.  He would also be my Captain.

4. Ted Dexter (Sussex, England & C. of E. (?))

Needs no introduction as a cricketer.  A “born-again Christian”, I have him down as a member of the Established Church, though I suspect that his beliefs tend towards the syncretic.  Will not be allowed to lead the team in any renditions of specially adapted hymns.

5. Hanse Cronje (Leicestershire, South Africa & some kind of South African church)

A controversial selection, perhaps, but what is Christianity about if not the redemption of sinners?  Wore a wristband asking WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?), though some of his answers to this question seem to have been a bit wide of the mark.

6. Albert Knight (Leicestershire, England & the Methodists)

Deserves a book to himself, and would have one if some enterprising publisher thought to reprint his “The Complete Cricketer” (1906).  Educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys (the same school as David Attenborough, Simon Hoggart and Dan Cole), he was described by E.E. Snow as “a widely read man and a keen student of the classics which he would often quote during a game, to the astonishment of friend and foe alike“.  Another lay preacher, he was given to praying loudly for success during his innings, a practice which Walter Brearley considered unfair and for which he reported him to the M.C.C..  Gavin Ewart quite unfairly described him as mad in a poem, though he perversely retracted the slur in a footnote.

7. C.T. Studd (Middlesex, England & C. of E.)

Born in Spratton, Studd played in the Test against Australia that led to the invention of The Ashes, but gave the game up in favour of missionary work in China and the Belgian Congo, where he died in 1931.  Firmly of the belief that anyone who had not been baptised was condemned to hellfire, he might have to be restrained from proselytising too forcefully in the field.  A useful fast-medium bowler and a competent bat.

8. J.R.T. Barclay (Sussex, Hong Kong & C. of E. (?))

In here because I have a vague idea he is a churchgoer and I need a spinner. Could also act as Vice-Captain.

9. Herbert Strudwick (Surrey, England & C. of E.)

England’s leading wicket-keeper for many years, he was discreetly devout and usually accompanied his friend Hobbs to Church on Sundays.

10. Wes Hall (Barbados, West Indies & the Pentecostalist Church)

The most fearsome fast bowler of his generation, he is always described as coming into bowl “with his crucifix flying”, which I hope won’t be found offensive.  Later in life he was ordained as a Minister in the Pentecostalist Church.  Would form a formidable new ball partnership with …

11. Rev. Walter Marcon (Eton, Oxford University & C. of E.)

A bit of a wildcard selection, Marcon specialised in bowling ferociously fast round arm full tosses.  He once broke a batsman’s leg with one of his deliveries and W.G. Grace reported that his father remembered him bowling to a field with three backstops and no fieldsman in front of the wicket.  One batsman tried to take him on by driving him, but the bat was knocked from his hands and broke his wicket.  After graduating, he took Holy Orders and became the Rector of Edgefield in Norfolk.

12th Man and Spiritual Advisor. Rev. Andrew Wingfield Digby (Oxford, Dorset & C. of E.)

Experienced in the role.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night …

 

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