Many Exits And An Entrance : My September In Cricket

Grace Road Autumn

Leicestershire v Essex, Grace Road, County Championship

Northamptonshire v Sussex, Wantage Road, County Championship (both September 2014)

September in cricket?  I’m not convinced there should be any.  My ideal season would end with the Championship wrapped up by the end of August, the last Test on August Bank Holiday and only a week or two of festival cricket at the seaside to come.  Of course, we would lament the absence of cricket, what with the weather being so lovely and everything, but really it is the Summer Game and it should end with Summer.

Both Leicestershire and Northamptonshire’s seasons had effectively ended well before the August hiatus in the Championship anyway.  Neither had won a match nor looked likely to, so having to play another couple of matches in September felt a little like a boxer who’d already thrown in the towel being shoved back into the ring to take a few more rounds of punishment.

The end of the season is, of course, the time for goodbyes, and, in cricket, these are seldom easy or handled well.  Ideally the faithful old retainer would, after many long years of service, acknowledge that his leg cutter no longer had quite the nip it used to and regretfully inform the Secretary of his intention to retire.  After brushing aside attempts to dissuade him “But Joe, the old place just won’t be the same without you” he would leave to a rousing chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow” and invest the takings from his benefit in a little public house (where he would not, of course, become too fond of his own wares and decline into alcoholism).

But that is not often how it is handled these days.  Although there will be many players bidding farewell to both Grace and Wantage Roads at the end of this season, their circumstances are a little different.  At Leicestershire the best young players are trying to leave against the wishes of the club, and at Northants the club are retiring their older players, in some cases against their wishes.

Before the match against Essex had started Nathan Buck was known to be fleeing for Lancashire, Shiv Thakor for Derbyshire and, during the course of it, Captain Cobb announced that he would be decamping to Wantage Rd. (perhaps to be nearer to his florist’s shop)

Cobbys the Florist

Since then Greg Smith has announced that he’s leaving for Nottinghamshire, where I think he might be seeing a lot of Lady Bay (works in the tea bar underneath the scoreboard on Thursdays, nice lass), which leaves only Ned Eckersley still frantically sending out a “come and get me plea”

Come and get me! Please!

Come and get me! Please!

 

My two penn’orth on what is wrong with Leicestershire and what can be done about it will have to wait for another day, but I would say that the most dispiriting aspect of what turned out to be the last day of the season at Grace Rd. (Leicestershire having lost by an innings within two days) was that there were so few Leicestershire supporters there to see it and so many from Essex.  Put a few deckchairs out and we could have been on the seafront at Clacton.

Considered rationally, Northants have had an even worse season than Leicestershire (albeit at a higher level).  Leicestershire at least held their own over the first two days in most of their games (on the basis of bonus points alone they would have finished fifth) whereas Northants have been thoroughly outclassed in almost every match.  In spite of that the atmosphere at Wantage Road seemed rather more cheerful.  I’m not convinced the regulars there really enjoy being successful, for one thing.  For another, none of the more promising young players are making desperate attempts to tunnel their way out and those who are leaving can at least say they’ve had a good innings (or be told that by others) and leave with the blessings of the stalwarts (as, here, do James Middlebrook and Andrew Hall)

Godbye to Middlebrook and Hall

Talking of exits, this may have been Peter Willey’s last match as an Umpire (subject to legal action). I’m not certain that I saw him play on this ground in his debut season (1966), but it’s more than likely that I did, in which case I’ve been watching him, in one capacity or another, for almost half a century.  I must say he’s aged a lot better than I have.

Willey leaves the field

For every exit there’s an entrance, more or less, of course, and here – waiting to make his – is 16-year-old Saif Zaib, who’s been signed on a three-year contract.  Haven’t seen him play, but I’m told he’s quite useful.

Waiting to make an entry

I first saw Willey play in the company of my Dad.  I like to keep track of the peregrinations of his memorial bench when I’m at Wantage Road and, on this occasion, he had his back to the action and was securing a temporary sightscreen. I suppose that might be what he would have wanted.

 

Memorial bench

Ah well.  That’s me done. For another year, anyway.

 

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4 thoughts on “Many Exits And An Entrance : My September In Cricket

  1. Your dad’s bench! Did you turn it around? We live in a house once belonging to a couple called George and Rose Bayliss, who were the first people here in the 1940’s, and who had an extraordinary taste in wall paper. They have a bench over at the cricket, and it’s my favourite. Isn’t it funny, the heart-pull of a cricket bench?

    • The bench was holding up a huge black sheet that they’d draped over the front of the pavilion to act as a sightscreen for one day games, so if I’d turned it round I’d have probably pulled the sheet down on top of the poor old members. Funny thing about this bench is that the club hadn’t told us it was there, so I only discovered it when – during a lull in the action – I turned round to see whose name was on it. Turned it to be my Dad. Fit of a facer, I don’t mind tell telling you.

  2. Admire you for sticking with your Club and region in times of adversity. A true supporter, whose blog I always enjoy reading. I stuck with Yorkshire in the 1980s, so I know what it can be like: all is well (not financially!) at Headingley now, but it wasn’t always so…hopefully the good times will return for the East Midlands, though it may be a long wait. Interested to hear your thoughts on Leics. when you have the time.

  3. Thanks very much, David. Delighted to see Yorkshire back to their old selves again. I saw the first day of the match at Trent Bridge (when Lees, Lyth & Ballance all made a lot of runs) & they were queuing round the block to get in. Just like old times.
    Difficult to know where to start with Leicestershire. Think the basic problem is that the more talented of the younger players don’t see playing for Leicestershire as an end in itself, just a way of getting a start before moving on to another bigger and better paying county, so we’re developing talented young sides who break up as soon as they reach maturity and we have to start all over again.
    Having said that one or two shrewd signings could have made a big difference to our results (I don’t think Northants would have got promoted last season without Copeland’s wickets or Worcester without Ajmal) and a bit of success would make the next crop of youngsters more likely to want to stick around.
    Beyond that, of course, there’s the question of whether small counties can hope to compete with the larger ones anymore, or whether we’re heading back to the ’30s – when, of course, Yorkshire won the Championship every year!

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