Northamptonshire v Kent, County Ground, 16 April 2011 – County Championship
“Q. What’s the worst thing about County Cricket?
Andrew Flintoff in April’s Wisden Cricketer. Well, each to their own, Andrew.
I had a choice yesterday. One of the benefits of membership at Leicestershire is free admission to Championship matches at Nottingham and Northampton (an arrangement it is hard to imagine being extended to football clubs). The connoisseuer’s choice would have been Notts v Hampshire, the loyalist’s Derbyshire v Leicester at Derby, but some strange homing instinct drew me to Wantage Road for the third day of Northants v Kent.
I would like to be able to illustrate what a glorious day it was with some of the many photographs I took, but, unfortunately, I left my camera at the ground, bringing my career as a Leading Photo-blogger to an abrupt halt. I’ve sent them an e-mail asking if anyone has handed the thing in, so am trusting in the innate honesty of the average County Cricket fan. Otherwise, I imagine some petty thief is, at this moment, flicking through a series of photographs of tree stumps and delapidated white buildings, with a puzzled expression on his rascally face.
On the pitch it was a day that encapsulated two sides of County Cricket – the first a kind of somnolent dream state, the second a brief period of intensity. Kent had made 202 in their first innings, Northants were 429-7 overnight. I assumed my position in the sun and kept half an eye on the pitch, half on the paper as Northants dawdled through the first hour or so to a total of 480. There seemed to be nothing in the pitch to trouble the batsman, and I was looking forward to a long day in the sun as Kent – I imagined, with their impressive batting line-up, fought their way back to parity.
Between innings, I looked in at the Supporters’ Club bookshop in the Signal Box. There had been an impressive influx of new cricket books from days of yore, suggesting that yet another member had passed to the other side during the winter. Outside, there was a box of eggs for sale. Two visitors (presumably from Kent) had brought these with them and donated them to the bookshop. One of these men was quite elderly, but was sporting an improbably thick mat of hennaed hair and dangly earrings. Most of the eggs were hens’ eggs, but some -smaller and blue- were, I think ducks’. One or two I could not identify – for all I know they were magpies’. Had they, perhaps, collected them from the roadside on their way from Kent? By the end of the afternoon the eggs were still there, and I wouldn’t have been too surprised to see that they had hatched out into a cheeping mass of chicks and ducklings. Stranger things have happened at the County Ground.
As play resumed, I moved into the shade in front of the pavilion, so that I could view proceedings from behind the bowler’s arm, as I usually do for the first few overs. Northants have signed up W.P.U.J.C. Vaas for the season (I hope) and I wanted to take the chance to see a genuine star (the sort who is normally only visible to mortals via Sky TV). Perhaps the groundstaff had surreptitiously substituted a drop- in wicket in between innings, while we were distracted by the ducks’ eggs, as Vaas seemed quite unplayable, but not quite as unplayable as Jack Brooks at the other end.
Brooks is a youngish fast bowler (I think he’s 26), who bears a passing resemblance to Orlando Bloom and seems to have the on-field nickname of “Kelly”*. I heard that he’s spent the winter with Dennis Lillee, and whatever Lillee had done to him (perhaps injected him with his own blood?) he seemed to have turned – for a couple of hours anyway – into the Demon himself, complete with headband. Kent were reduced to 25-5 at lunch, and 30-odd for 6 shortly afterwards.
As Tredwell put up a little resistance to prolong the inevitable, a very tall man sped into the ground on a bicycle, assumed a position on the boundary and, for the rest of the match, kept up a constant barrage of high volume commentary and advice to the players in the kind of rich Caribbean accent not often heard in England these days, interspersed with impromptu calypsos – Headband Man (in praise of Jack Brooks) was my favourite.
This man would have been quite inconspicious if he had been one of a crowd of many thousands at Kingston in about 1976. At an otherwise merely murmurous County Ground he was the focus of all eyes and ears, including the players and umpires, who seemed to be struggling to keep their minds on the game.
Over by three, except for the time spent searching for the lost camera. Oh well, perhaps it’ll turn up.
* According to Wikipedia, he also answers to – “Susan Boyle, Subo, Ferret, Don Jnr, Yorath, Brooksy, Animal”. Captain Andrew Hall chose, I thought, the least interesting option, when speaking to Northamptonshire’s website –
“Those guys hit all the right areas today and it showed. Vaasy and Brooksy were phenomenal with the ball in hand”