Freak Declarations In The Silly Season

Leicestershire v Gloucestershire, CB40, Grace Road, Monday 27th August 2012

Leicestershire v Kent, LVCC, Grace Road, Friday 31st August 2012

“The M.C.C. have reminded county cricket clubs of the communication issued in April 1932 which pointed out that the ‘freak declaration’ was not in the interests of the game, or in the interests of the county championships. It is clear that the Laws of Cricket do not provide for collaboration of this kind, and to accept it as justifiable in May and June would equally justify it in August at a time when the immediate result of the championship is of great public interest.” – M.C.C., July 1946

This season seems to be entering the silly stage.  At a national level there is the grisly Grand Guignol silliness of l’affaire KP ; at Grace Road a sort of what-the-hell, nothing-to-lose, demob-happy giddiness at the end of a season made farcical by rain.

The Foxes are currently the form team in CB40 cricket and saved their best batting performance of the season for the last game.  Everyone in the upper order contributed (Thakor with 52 and Boyce with 51 outstanding) to a total of 264, the only blemish being their failure to bat out the full 40 overs.  It would be good to think they could reproduce this kind of performance at the beginning of the competition next year, when it still matters.

As everyone knew it would (it had been predicted for 5.00 by the BBC) rain set in shortly after the interval and Leicestershire had their third No Result of the season, enough to lift them over Worcestershire into second-to-last in their group.

The most memorable incident of the day was Mike Thornely (not usually that demonstrative a batsman) breaking one of the windows in that part of The Meet known as the Great Learning Centre (perhaps named after the Maoist opera by Cornelius Cardew).  Captain Hoggard happened to be passing shortly afterwards and announced that the cost of the window would be deducted from Thornely’s wages. Given our current financial position, I’m not sure he was joking.

I have seen the theory aired that anxieties about match-fixing would put an end to the practice of Captains conniving to achieve a result in rain-affected matches.  These dark thoughts don’t seem to have reached the happy land of Grace Road.

At the start of Day 4 (days 2 and 3 had been substantially washed out) Leicestershire were 171-3 in reply to Kent’s 350.  Kent have an outside chance of promotion, Leicestershire’s motivation is to keep themselves off the bottom of the table.

A more hard-nosed Captain of Yorkshire origins (Illingworth, for one) would, I think, have chosen to bat through the day to pick up 5 batting points in addition to 3 for the draw.  More sentimentally, this would also have given Matt Boyce, who was in his eighties overnight, the chance of making his hundred.

Boyce made his debut in 2006 and has held on to his place as an obdurate opener – in spite of a career average of 27.55 – with the aid of some first-class fielding, all round good eggery and (it used to be said) Captaincy potential.  This season he has moved down the order, looked a great deal happier and begun to achieve some more consistency.

Having just turned 27, he ought to be coming into his prime, but is out of contract at the end of the season and I’ve seen no announcement that he’s getting another one (this being the down side of Leicestershire’s otherwise admirable youth policy).

He didn’t look very pleased when, after one ball, Hoggard declared.  (Why they bowled this one ball – other than to waste 10 minutes – I don’t know).  He also had a reluctant part to play in the ensuing farcical morning. The arrangement, as far as I could see, was that Kent would set Leicestershire roughly 300 by lunch, which was achieved by a mixture of proper bowlers bowling properly, proper bowlers bowling half-jokingly (Wayne White managed to dismiss Rob Key with an offbreak) and bursts of outright comedy bowling.

At one point Leicestershire made to leave the field, as if they had fulfilled their side of the bargain – the Kent batsmen called them back, thinking this would leave Leicestershire too much time.  To waste a bit more time Boyce, who hardly bowls, was instructed to ‘come in off his long run’ to bowl his military trundlers, which were duly blocked.

All of which would have been justifiable  if Leicestershire had come anywhere near the target.  Having lost both openers early, however, the innings turned into a grimly drawn-out rearguard action to save the game.  In spite of some resistance in the middle order from Thakor and Boyce and in the rear from Naik and Hoggard, the struggle was lost shortly after 5.00.

Boyce looked, I thought, even more downcast when he left the pitch for the second time in the day (and I do hope it wasn’t for the last time) –

The other folks who I imagine will have been less than happy with the day’s proceedings were Kent’s promotion rivals Yorkshire – the best side in Division 2 – whose season has been comprehensively wrecked by rain.  Kent are now only 4 points behind them, with two games to play.

I’ve no doubt there is nothing Hoggard would have liked more than to achieve a victory, but I wonder whether – given the circumstances of his departure from Yorkshire – he felt very much inclined to do them a favour by denying Kent the possibility of a win by batting the day out.

I thought of putting some of these points to Hoggard as he left the pitch, but he is a much bigger bloke than he looks on the telly (though perhaps not quite as big as he looks in this photograph).

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