Leicestershire v Durham, Grace Road, 40 Over League, Monday 2 May 2011
Once again, the crowd at Grace Road were in Bank Holiday mood on Monday. Well, we have to make the most of it now that we get so few of them.
I’ve recently begun to read David Underdown’s fascinating Start of Play : Cricket and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England (Penguin, 2000) and I realise that, in a way, these bank holiday bunfights are returning cricket to its roots, when it was one of a range of diversions that might be available to the rural populace on high days and holidays (of which they had many more in those days) alongside cudgelling, ploughing contests, smock races, cheese-rolling and the like (often arranged by publicans to attract custom). Nowadays, of course, the amusements are much less likely to end in violence. As Underdown describes –
“Often the drinking got out of hand. During their merrymaking in the Whitsun holidays in 1770, some weavers at Aldbourne fired off a cannon, causing extensive damage to a nearby house … But who did not know the old saying, that it was no festival unless there be some fightings?”
Nothing of that sort at Grace Road, of course, though there was some danger of damage to nearby houses caused by some of Durham’s batting.
Leicestershire won the toss and chose to bowl – disappointingly for me, as I knew that I’d have to leave at tea, and wanted to see how Taylor would deal with the bowling of Onions, Plunkett and Davies (neither of whom were playing) and young Scott Borthwick (the new Adil Rashid, apparently). But it did mean that I saw Ben Stokes in action. The hotly-tipped Stokes (19) is one of the new breed of batsman – tall, fit and clean-hitting (he also bowls). I don’t follow golf at all, but his hitting reminds me a golfer driving off from a tee. I might quibble, and wonder if he’d hit it quite so far if he were using a Herbert Sutcliffe Autograph, but he’s certainly yet another to keep any eye on.
The main course, though, was Ian Blackwell, who got into gear when things were looking bright for the Foxes at 127-5. I’ve never seen Blackwell do very much, and somehow – I suppose through reading that he was out of contention for an England place because of Samit Patel-style fitness issues – I’d formed the impression that he was some sort of ale-swilling rustic gutbucket who would have been more at home in a cudgelling contest in Aldbourne in 1770 – but not on this showing.
He doesn’t quite have Stokes’s timing, but the power of his hitting was impressive. I imagine that, if you happened to be a cricket ball, and Taylor hit you to the boundary, you wouldn’t realise what had happened until you hit the advertising hoarding (in the way that some subtle swordsman claimed that, when he’d decapitated someone, they wouldn’t notice until they shook their head). With Blackwell, you’d know soon enough. We spectators could feel our fillings rattling from the safety of the Fox Bar. 98, with 5 sixes, including a lost ball over the scoreboard.
Apparently, after I’d left, Blackwell also extinguished any hopes the Foxes might have had by luring Taylor into a caught and bowled for 21 (though I should point out that he (Taylor) had snaffled another century against Warwickshire the previous day, when I wasn’t looking).
An innovative piece of captaincy here, incidentally, from Matthew Hoggard. Who is this fielding down on the boundary?
No. 77 – Hoggard, as the sweater plainly states. I’d know him anywhere – the South African accent, the slow left arm bowling … it’s actually Claude Henderson – but I can see that convincing the opposition that there’s more than one Hoggard on the pitch is a ruse worthy of Mike Brearley at his most cunning.
We also seem to have acquired another wicket-keeper, by the way, in addition to Tom New, Paul Nixon and “Aubrey etc.” Eckersley – one P.G. Dixey by name. Should come in handy one day.