Hope Springs Eternal : #goodtimes at Grace Road and Fairfield Road

This is tempting fate, and I’ve resisted saying it before, but it has to be said: there has been a good feeling around Grace Road this April.  This ought to go without saying.  Why would there not be a good feeling at any cricket club in April (apart from in the “England camp“, where, presumably, the atmosphere is one of introspection and paranoia, as Cook and Moores – poor sods – “hammer out their values“)?  The slate is still clean, all things are still possible and there is pleasure still to be had in speculating on what might be (if, if only) as opposed to what might have been.  And, of course, at Grace Road, as at any self-respecting ground, the flowerbeds in front of the pavilion are in full bloom.

Grace Road in April

Grace Rd in April 2

Leicestershire’s delayed entry into the Championship (the sad postponement of the Derby game meant that they did not play a competitive game until 20th April) has, I think, helped not only to recall echoes of yesteryear (when it was all but impossible for a side to be out of the running by the end of May) but meant that they have arrived on the scene in at least second gear.  Following on from two friendly matches for the First XI and two (apparently hard-fought) intra-club matches, the Second XI friendly against Derbyshire was used to give most of the prospective First XI another runout.

This blog can, in passing, now claim to span two generations.  In the first post I wrote about cricket one of the few players I mentioned by name was Dominic Cork.  Opening the bowling for Derbyshire 2s in this match was his son, 19-year-old Greg (or Gregory Teodor Gerald, to give him his full name).  He is another left-armer (so, no doubt, someone will soon be proposing him as England’s answer to Mitchell Johnson).  Another left-armer is Rob Taylor, who, in April 2009, was turning out mainly for Harborough and threatening the homeowners of Fairfield Road with the fury of aerial bombardment as an opening batsman.  Since then he has progressed through the 2nds of both Leicestershire and Northants, Loughborough MCCU and Leicestershire’s 1-day side to international recognition with Scotland.  I have always seen him as much as a batsman as a bowler and I was delighted to see him given the chance to prove me right with 164* against Derbyshire (less good news, though, for the homeowners and insurers of Milligan Road).

Taylor and Freckingham

Taylor being given the chance to show what he can do with the bat would be one of the “if onlies” I spoke of earlier.  Others would include Smith and Boyce putting on 100 for the first wicket, Eckersley maintaining last season’s form, Josh Cobb at last finding some way of integrating his 1-day style into his 4-day cricket, Jigar Naik avoiding self-inflicted injuries in the field and Charlie Shreck having some kind of extended Indian Summer, in the style of Richardson or Chapple.  Some enterprising Captaincy would help too.

Almost miraculously, it now seems, all of these hopes were fulfilled in the first home match against Glamorgan.  Leicestershire made 500 in their first innings for the first time that I can remember since that glorious day at the Oval when James Taylor milked Andre Nel and his strutting cronies to the tune of a double hundred.

500

Shreck looked sharper than I remember him appearing at Kent, Naik (I’m told) was threatening on the fourth day and emerged from the match unscathed and Captain Cobb demonstrated some awareness of the need for quick scoring and shrewd declarations if 16 points for a win are to be achieved.

It seems a shame to allow facts to cast a shadow so early in the season, but it is true that we haven’t actually won a match yet.  Bowling the opposition out twice quickly may prove difficult (which is why the art of the strategic declaration assumes such importance).  Ronnie Sarwan (the official Captain) hadn’t made it to England in time for the first two matches. He will, no doubt, contribute runs; let us hope he also provides decisive leadership.  It is also true, alas, that, if what we are seeing is the coming to ripeness of the group of young players whose fortunes I have been following over the last five years, then ripeness may well (as the poet hath it) be all.  The contracts of Cobb, Eckersley and Thakor (amongst others) are up at the end of the Season and it may, unfortunately, be other Counties who reap what we have sewn.  But enough of such dark thoughts.  There is a good feeling at Grace Road for now and that has been rare enough in recent times.

jigar naik

And not only at Grace Road.  Harborough have (in circumstances I am not privy to) lost seven senior players since last season and are facing the new campaign with a team much younger even than Leicestershire, their totem and stalwart Kevin Innes unable to contribute with the ball and unable, the Saturday before last, to put out a 2nd XI.  But necessity (to resuscitate another old cliche) can be the mother of innovation and they took the field against a muscular and much-fancied Syston side last Saturday with one seamer (celebrating his 17th birthday) and four youthful spinners.  Suicidal so early in the season?  Well, not if you have a hand in preparing the wicket and Kevin Innes can still bat.  We won shortly after 7.00, as the sun set behind the Pavilion.

victory at fairfield rd

In August these early evening sunsets and lengthening shadows provoke bitter-sweet thoughts of “dying falls” and ever-encroaching Winter.  In Maytime, though, evenings can (to paraphrase somebody or other) only get lighter and – my word – don’t you bet poor Moores and Cook wish they were young again and heading off for a few barely legal beers in the clubhouse after a famous victory rather than bracing themselves for a shellacking from the Press (not to mention the cats’ chorus on Twitter) after an indifferent display against Scotland?  Still wish Rob “Roy” Taylor the best of luck, though.

 

Guess The Year Competition

More guessing games.  What we’re looking for here is the year, though extra points are available for:

a) The author

b) X and Y

c) The County

All three were England players, X and the narrator occasionals, Y a regular.  X and Y were both senior County professionals.  As a guide, the average salary for a County cricketer is now somewhere between £40,000 and £100,000 a year and the minimum England central contract is worth – at a conservative estimate – well over £200,000 p.a..

“Making ends meet is a constant worry for most cricketers, particularly those with a family and a mortgage.  Only two —–shire players are paid more than £10,000 a year – and I am not one of them.  The club’s argument is that you are being paid for six months’ work, so you have another six months to double your pay.  It’s a great theory … In reality players end up doing all kinds of dead end jobs to see them through the winter, assuming they can get a job at all.  X has worked in a quarry in the past, but last winter he was on the dole.  So was Y.  I spent one winter driving a lorry … and almost killed myself when the steering failed on a steep bend.  The only way to get the old thing up to 40 miles an hour was to stand up with all your weight on the accelerator.  After a bit you get tired so you swapped feet.  Another year I knocked windows together for a local manufacturing company. It was so boring.

Financially, the only place to be is in the England squad.  Test players earn nearly £2,000 a match and around £15,000 for a tour.  It’s a different league.”

I would dearly love to be able to provide the answers upside down at the bottom of this piece, but that doesn’t seem to be possible, so I shall append them shortly.

(Answers now provided below, courtesy of Brian Carpenter.)

The Spirit Of Cricket : A Quick Quiz

I’m afraid that, owing to circumstances beyond my control (mainly the weather), this month’s diary of a season will have to bundled up into some kind of monthly summary.

But, while we’re on the subject of the Spirit of Cricket, here is a brief quiz.  Simply identify the author of the following passage:

“On a worn piece of turf I could [deliver a ball] so that it would whip upwards viciously at the most important and tender parts of a man’s anatomy.  And not every player in those days used a ‘box’.  I am not ashamed to confess that I seldom hesitated, as soon as a batsman came to the crease, to let him have a quick one bang in the penis; after which a quick, simple straight one would invariably remove him from the scene”.

First prize: a tedious lecture on the merits of James Taylor.

Braybrooke’s Burning

News is coming in that the rioting sweeping the nation has spread to the village of Braybrooke in Leicestershire.  Reports suggest that trouble flared when a 48 year old woman, described as being “well respected in the local community“, was “spoken to quite sharply” by a council official for leaving a plastic bottle in her green recycling bin.  By late afternoon a tractor had been set on fire in a neighbouring field …

Actually, that ornament of harvest time – stubble burning

With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming : Virginia Astley

A desperately lazy weekend, I’m afraid, or rather, as it isn’t really the weekend’s fault, but mine, a desperately lazy blogger. 

But still, to prevent this becoming the first weekend when I’ve failed to post anything at all, here is a snap of the Brampton Valley Way in mid-July.  The wild roses have all but gone, the sloes and berries are still in their infancy, but these flowers (and I wish I knew what they were called) are in full bloom.  If you look very closely you may be able to see bees and butterflies and (just out of view) some of the squadron of swifts that were putting on an astonishing display of aerobatics overhead.

 

And for anyone who happens to be listening in overseas and would like to be reminded of how an English Summer’s day feels, may I recommend the following selection from the LP From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, by Miss Virginia Astley, from 1983.  This album sometimes feels like it’s barely music at all, more a simulation of what it would be like to lie in bed through the progress of a Summer’s day with younger sisters practising the piano (and oboe) in the room below. 

This track – the album follows the progress of the day from waking to sleeping – is the first, and is entitled With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming:

Le Playfair nouveau est arrive*

 

Playfair 2010

Delighted to find this morning that this year’s Playfair is in the shops.  If Wisden is the cricketer’s bible, then I suppose Playfair is the trusty pocket prayerbook that so often stops the sniper’s bullet.  Spring is here, and I can now get round to planning my season in earnest.  (If anyone’s planning a big wash day or a trip to the seaside on Friday, by the way, I’d make other arrangements, if I were you.  I’ve taken the day off work to watch Leicestershire v Northants, so I expect it will rain). 

I’m pleased to say that, at first glance, the new editor (Ian Marshall, who I see lives in Eastbourne) hasn’t been tempted to go in for too much new broomism, following the death of Bill Frindall .  It looks and feels pretty much the same as always, though I’m sad to see that it no longer contains the fixtures for Minor Counties and 2nd XI cricket.  I don’t often get to see a lot of either, but they do offer a potential refuge for those of us who prefer the longer form of the game, and the chance to visit a few of our more picturesque grounds.

Can’t help noticing the following too, from the Editor’s foreword –

“The records section now include matches involving multinational teams and those where the sides tossed up but the players did not take the pitch.”

Poor old B.F., who held strong views on this matter, would not be pleased, though I suspect Ian Marshall has been wanting to do it for years.

 * sorry, Francophones, still can’t find the accents …

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday today.  In many parishes the clergy offer to wash the feet of the congregation.  This must be a great boon to the pedicure industry, for what good Anglican would want to have their Vicar see their feet disfigured with gnarled toenails, chipped nail polish, bunions, corns or athlete’s foot?  I imagine the Clergy of England  have never seen such a delightful parade of  sweetly perfumed and well-buffed feet before.

Watch out, Vicar - I'm ticklish!

T.S. Eliot : “dated and slightly grim”?

A strikingly odd remark in yesterday’s Observer, in a review of a recording of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, read by the actor Ralph Fiennes –

“Eliot’s own reading of Four Quartets was masterly … Fiennes has maintained Eliot’s slow and incantatory measure, but has transformed the poet’s now dated and slightly grim delivery with subtle changes of mood and pace.”

I suppose it’s the idea that a poet’s reading of his own work, in his own time, can sound dated that strikes me as odd.  I’m aware that some poets dislike reading their own work, some might admit that they aren’t very good at it, and some poems simply aren’t designed to be read aloud.

I don’t feel that any of these apply to Eliot.  I can’t lay my hands on the exact quotation, but I believe he said something to the effect that his intention was to sound like a clergyman reciting some part of the Prayerbook, and I feel it’s this that enhances the vatic quality of the verse. 

Eliot reads here: the conclusion to Little Gidding (the images aren’t mine and apologies to all concerned if this constitutes some horrendous breach of copyright) – Little Gidding

Stuart Broad : a brief reminiscence, and a look to the future

Understandably there’s been a great deal of excitement this week about the conclusion to the Ashes series.  A good deal of excitable comment too from various quarters about young Stuart Broad.

Delighted to see his comment, though, in yesterday’s Guardian –

“”I haven’t got the body to be posing in underwear like Beckham” he said” – because I certainly don’t intend to go down that well-worn path again – Underwear.

I can remember watching one of Broad’s first appearances in first class cricket, against, I think, Somerset, at Oakham School – his very recent alma mater – in 2005 and telling anyone who would listen (not a vast throng, admittedly) that he would soon be playing  for England.  (I mention this because I’m not known for my fits of prescience).  I also remember telling my daughter-  then aged nine – that she ought to ask fora signed photo while he was still reasonably accessible.  Now, of course, four years down the line, her Facebook (et al.) is buzzing with hot pix of Ashes hottie Stuart Broad.  All too typical of the younger generation, I’m afraid, who simply won’t listen to their elders.     

So, as a public service announcement, I’d suggest getting in early with hot pix of the Ashes hottie of 2013 – James Taylor!  Here’s one to start your collection –

James Taylor