The Ache Of Festival Cricket

Back to Cardus and The Summer Game –

“The end happens at far-away Eastbourne – or if it doesn’t it ought, for poetry’s sake, to do so – and after the last drawing of stumps a leaf falls from a tree and a faint mist touches the field.  Summer is over, and cricket too.  Goodbye a hundred happy days in the open air;  good-bye Lord’s, Tonbridge, Gloucester.  The North of England cricketer who packs his bags for the season’s last time away down at Eastbourne lets his cab take him to the railway station and it is twilight, with the street lamps shining bitterly on the sea front.  The homeward journey to Manchester is a period of sentimental reverie; what can life possibly contain for a fellow to-morrow? No Old Trafford – only the ache of festival cricket.  Pass, now, summer game; late September is on you, dark winter not far behind; you are only for the light …”

I’m not sure there is a satisfactory way for the cricket season to end.  This year it’s ending (on the 14th) with what ought to be the climax of the County Championship (though in fact all the important questions were resolved this week, other than whether Leicestershire will finish last again).  Then, on Saturday the 15th, there is the final of the forty over competition.  This is presumably an attempt to combine the Cup Final atmosphere of the old Gillette Cup with the finale of the John Player League (which used to occur at roughly the same time).  I doubt if it’s of much interest now, except for those directly involved.

And then, like an irritating blue-bottle buzzing away somewhere is a corner of the room, just out of sight but hard to put entirely out of mind, there is the series of T20 matches between England and South Africa.

Until the ‘sixties (and the invention of the Gillette Cup) the solution to the problem seems to have been to play only at the seaside in September, a pleasant coda to the cricket season and a welcome extension of the Summer season for the seasiders. There were the two great festivals at Scarborough (still surviving in diminished form) and its Southern equivalent at Hastings.  The Hastings Festival petered out in 1966 and the ground itself was abandoned by Sussex in 1996 (it’s now the site of a shopping centre). Matches were also played at Blackpool (Stanley Park), Bournemouth (Dean Park), Torquay (Recreation Ground), Portsmouth (United Services Recreation Ground) and Hove.

The usual form was to have the serious business of the Championship wrapped up by the end of August (though it would be followed by a match between the Champion County and the Rest).  The Festival games might include a reprise of Gentlemen v Players, the equally prestigious (though often forgotten) North v South, sometimes East v West, matches against the touring side and various invitation XIs (A.E.R. Gilligan’s XI, T.N. Pearce’s XI, Leveson-Gower’s XI).

Cardus’s reference to Eastbourne is intriguing.  I can only find two references to a first-class match being played at the Saffrons, Eastbourne in September (before 1929, when The Summer Game was published in book form).  One began on the 23rd September 1922 (RAF v the Rest), the other on the 20th September 1922 between the North of England and the South.  Perhaps it was the second match he was thinking of – and the North of England cricketer was, in fact, himself?  The Lancashire players who might have accompanied him back to Manchester were Tyldesley, Parkin and the obscure F.W. Musson.

The match itself must have been a disappointment to the boatered crowd who’d turned up expecting a display of gay festival hitting from the likes of Tennyson,  Woolley and Fender.  It was a low scoring affair, ending a day early.  The Yorkshire slow left armer Roy Kilner seems to have been the villain of the piece, taking 5-11 to bowl the South out in their second innings for 63.  Perhaps that’s why they didn’t repeat the experiment.

Cardus goes on to say “It is the brevity of the summer season that makes the game precious.”  Of course, to those who follow cricket mainly on satellite television, the season has no ending and no beginning.  The season is less precious to them, perhaps, though they do escape these aches of late September.

5 thoughts on “The Ache Of Festival Cricket

  1. I passed through Eastbourne last night en route from Brighton to Beachy Head; it was a-glimmerin’ and a-shimmerin’ in the early evening light. Quite beautiful. We also saw a local cricket match in play , just before Beachy Head, in a field where the boundary was the road! In fact one of the fielders was dicing with death retrieving the ball from in between moving cars as we passed. It was a magnificent sight, those playiers in sparkling white, sidelit by the setting son with the Downs as a backdrop. I nearly wept.

    I associate the September ‘aches’ with school rather than cricket. I always get a feeling akin to acute homesickness just as the new school year begins. Having left school nearly 30 years ago, I’m finally beginning to shake it off!

  2. Oh how wonderful. I do miss the sea.

    I think everyone feels some sort of ache in September, of the back to school, end of season variety. We used to spend most of the Summer holidays with my Grandparents in Kettering then head back to the Blackpool area, where we lived, in September. As a result, I always have the strange feeling that I’m going back to school when I go the seaside and the (almost certainly unique) feeling that I’m going on holiday when I go to Kettering.

    Many congratulations, by the way, on your many successes – they’re well deserved. And best of luck with the cookery competition!

  3. A wonderful Cardus extract.

    Like you, I think, I feel an underlying sense of dissatisfaction with the cricket season now that isn’t just about the constant rain or the fact that I can’t see as much cricket as I’d like. It just feels like a mess – lacking structure or coherence – and mostly arranged for the benefit of television.

    Although I enjoyed the conclusion of the final yesterday I find the CB40 a prodigiously uninteresting competition. Seeing the many empty seats at Lord’s yesterday made me think wistfully of the times when you’d have to run the gamut of ticket touts as you walked from St.John’s Wood station to the ground for the Gillette or NatWest Final, and it really was the season’s climax.

    Advancing age, I suppose.

    But then there was Michael Bates’s wicket-keeping, which was sublime. A player to really watch, I feel.

  4. I’m sure I’ve bored on quite enough about this subject already. Looks as though it can only get worse if the latest wheeze – which seems to be to have a city-based (‘Birmingham Bashers’ etc.) English version of the IPL in August comes off.

    I find I’m trying hard to fight off a creeping sense of disillusionment with cricket in general. I have to try very hard to take an interest in ODIs and have given up pretending to be interested in T20. Even Tests have started to seem a bit overblown, though I’m sure I’ll feel differently when it’s the depths of December and they’re playing in India.

    I suppose the justification for the CB40 is that it still brings in decent crowds (at Leicester anyway) and provides a jolly Sunday afternoon out. But as cricket, it is fairly negligable – apart from the odd cameo innings.

    I’m sure age comes into it. I remember shocking my poor old Dad by saying how much I liked the JPL when it first started. I must have been about 10 – but I’ve now been watching it for 40+ years and – however much they tinker with the rules – I think it’s just about exhausted all its possibilities for me.

    I’ll have to keep an eye out for Bates – I have seen Hants a couple of times this season, but both times they’ve collapsed like the proverbial pack of cards & I haven’t seen them bowl.

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