Leicestershire v Worcestershire, Grace Road, County Championship, 28-31 August 2013
Readers of “The Guardian” this Saturday may have been irritated, as I was, by the following snippet from Simon Hoggart:
“The other day my son and I did something almost nobody does these days: we went to a county cricket match. The Kia Oval, which a few days before had been rammed with Ashes fans, had a few hundred people scattered around the 23,500 seats. Whole blocks were empty. Nearly all the food and drink stands were closed.
The match, Surrey v Derbyshire was entertaining enough, though I was glad we had taken enough stuff to read, otherwise it could have been a long seven hours. The seats were hard and uncomfortable. The crowd was almost silent … it seemed a little sad. … I do wonder how long county cricket will last, and when it’s gone, how we will nurture new talent.”
The wrong-headedness of this should be clear without any gloss from me. Did he really expect a mid-week County match to fill a ground the size of the Oval? Would he expect all of the innumerable places to buy food and drink to be kept open for a crowd of a few hundred? Does he think the seats would have been any more comfortable at the Test Match the week before? Did it occur to him that the crowd were silent – as opposed to bawling bantz or “Jerusalem” because they were concentrating on the cricket? Might it have been worth mentioning the context of the match – that Derbyshire (minnows swimming against the tide) have staged a late revival and that a win over Surrey might have sent the lucre-laden strutters back down into the Second Division, regardless of their desperate gambit of signing the world’s top batsman (Hashim Amla) on a four-match deal? I think that might have been worth mentioning, if he was aware of it.
If he had been at Grace Road, though, he might be forgiven for having the impression that one venerable institution was on its last legs, though it would not have been County Cricket itself. (I have to say that I record this match with little pleasure and solely in the interests of historical accuracy.)
Worcestershire won the game by nine wickets, having been set 185 to win at lunch on the last day. Anyone who’s played cricket (as Geoffrey Boycott so often says) should be able to reconstruct the sense of deflation experienced by the home supporters (who were not numerous) from that scoreline. The main story (which would normally have been a subplot) was whether our own Ned Eckersley could overtake the slightly better known Moeen Ali as the leading run-scorer in this year’s County Championship. Moeen is seen here, giving himself a kick up the arse which might have been better administered to some of the opposition
and Eckersley here, walking off the pitch into the arms of his adoring fans.
Eckersley is a slightly built, doe-eyed figure who currently sports a scrubby beard, giving him a faintly Rabbinical aspect. He first hove into view on this blog in a pre-season friendly in April 2011, when I had this to say about him;
“Encouragingly, he comes equipped with an impressive portfolio of nicknames – Ned, Eckers, Chef, Twiggy, Jazza, Flanders, Ernest and Aubrey. He is on trial at the moment, and I say we take him on, on the basis of the nicknames alone.”
and time has proved my instincts sound. After a couple of steady seasons as a wicketkeeper-batsman, he has largely dropped the ‘keeping and developed a Trott-like repertoire of obsessive crease-scratching and bail-hammering, which – together with, perhaps, an intensive study of the Trott guide to risky shot-elimination – seems to have helped him to become the kind of sound foundation around which innings are built (if only there were anyone to build it). In this match Eckersley won the battle of the accumulators, with two centuries to his name (and was awarded his County cap), against one unbeaten fifty for Moeen, and now stands on 1267 runs as against Moeen’s 1299. Unfortunately it was still Moeen who left the field the victor
and I do have to wonder how long Eckersley will be content to scratch away at his lonely furrow here before he begins to look for pastures new.
Post-mortems are traditionally left until the subjects are dead, so I’ll leave anatomising what’s gone wrong with our season until it’s over. Next week we visit Lancashire, where we have – surely? – as much hope of survival as a snowflake on a hotplate, and then one more match at home, against Hampshire. This will (unless he’s injured himself again) be Matthew Hoggard’s last game in first-class cricket and our chance to avoid the first winless season since the formation of the County Championship. I’d love to think that our players are aware of this, and that they care, but we shall see.