Not a very memorable May. Too much mizzle-dodging, a washout at Trent Bridge and a washed-out Bank Holiday T20 double-header at Fairfield Road haven’t helped. I have seen two days of Hampshire batting at Grace Road (a game we lost thanks to the first dramatic collapse of the season), an imperious innings from James Taylor against Durham at Trent Bridge and Northants running through a T20-hungover Yorkshire side at Wantage Road. I can confirm that James Vince looks a useful batsman in good nick, but then, as this is the time of year when, England being dormant, a larger portion of the iceberg of English cricket is visible above the water than usual, you will have been able to read all about that in a mainstream media outlet of your choice. The blogger feels a little superfluous.
But then memory is a curious thing and one match has stuck in my mind, a one-day 2nd XI affair between Leicestershire and Notts at Leicester Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe are one of the oldest extant clubs in the County, formed in 1873, though they only moved to their present ground in 1953. The name is presumably the result of late-flowering Scott-worship and their current ground occupies land that was once part of the long-gone Leicester Forest (they share a complex of grounds with the Rugby club of the same name).
As I say, the forest is long gone, along with its attendant knights, but its spirit lingers on in the lines of vast conifers that flank the ground.
In a strong wind they rustle and shimmy distractingly like a can-can dancer’s drawers and, in any conditions, seem to reduce the players to tiny, Subbuteo-scale, proportions (even the self-described “big goober” Luke Fletcher).
Fletcher was one of a number of those playing in this game who have flitted in and out of this blog in the five years of its existence, in different circumstances, like characters in some roman fleuve. Fletcher first appeared at a Seconds game at Kibworth that was interrupted by the harvest in a neighbouring field, looking like “a Polish builder who had wandered in and asked if could have a go at bowling”. He later turns up frustrating Middlesex at Trent Bridge by “poking around like Peter Roebuck“. Coach Newell advises him he could be the answer to Nottinghamshire’s bowling problems if he could lay off the ale. And now here he is back in this just-submerged proportion of the cricketing iceberg, alongside other long-term denizens of this world such as Ollie Freckingham and Tom Wells.
Freckingham and Wells first appear as the fastest pair of bowlers in the Leicestershire League, playing in the County Cup Final for Loughborough against Harborough. Freckingham rises to the surface, is for some time the leading wicket-taker in Division 2 of the Championship and is elected Player of the Year for 2013. Now he too is back in this pleasant demi-limbo between club cricket and the bright floodlit uplands of the professional game. There are others here too: Alex Wyatt, who has been not quite established in the First XI since he made his debut in 2009, Paul Franks (the last Young Player of the Year not to appear for England), Dan Redfern, who looked set to star for Leicestershire this season but finds he can’t get back into the side after a finger injury, Billy Root (brother of the more famous Joe), Sam Kelsall (waiting to fill the gap created by James Taylor if he ever gets into the England side) and more. They all have their stories.
And then there are those who are no longer here. On the day that this match took place two long-time residents, Harry Gurney and Rob Taylor, were appearing against each other for England and Scotland respectively. (The last time I saw Gurney was at another 2nds match at Nottingham’s Lady Bay ground last year, in opposition to, as it happens, and in conversation with,Freckingham.) Of course there are reasons why one player rises to the surface and another submerges but some of these players might be forgiven, as they strain for pace in the shadow of the mighty conifers, for feeling that their fates have less to do with reason than the caprices of some flighty forest-spirit. Modern cricketers may be adept at paying lip service to the new philosophies (e.g. small margins) but in their hearts they know better than not to placate the old religion of Mother Cricket.
Part of this loss of faith in the men of reason may be down to the sudden re-appearance of Mitchell Johnson, which seems to have caused as much panic as the reappearance of Halley’s comet did in 1066. Gurney and Taylor are both beneficiaries of the cry “Find a left-armer, any left-armer really (even Tymal Mills)!” and another beneficiary (if that’s the word) of the destruction of Graeme Swann and the consequent cry “Find a spinner, for God’s sake find a spinner!” was playing at the Ivanhoe. Rob Sayer, who plays his club cricket for Peterborough, and has hardly played for Leicester 2nds, took some wickets for England Under-19s over the Winter and consequently featured in more than one “Ones to watch” feature in the Spring. He may well go on to great things, but, on this showing, he is no better a bowler than another spin-bowling Rob who also took some wickets for the England Under-19s, couldn’t get a contract with Leicestershire and is now back performing very effectively for Market Harborough.
(As to who or what the Presiding Spirit behind all this is, who knows? Well, I think the Last Gnomes know. They know everything else … where to get off the bus so that you don’t have to retrace your steps for half an hour, where to get a cob on a Bank Holiday, where the only bench on the ground is, where to find a scorecard when they aren’t on sale, exactly what went on at Sileby that time. But then, of course, they have long ago retreated back to what’s left of the forest, and they aren’t telling …)