In Search Of The Spirits of Cricket : A Short “Film” Of The 2014 Cricket Season

Parturient montes et exit … well, something a bit different anyway (though I suspect that this is one of those that means a great deal to me but will be found puzzling, at best, by others).

It is, as you will see if you click on the link below, a slideshow of a selection of photographs taken during the 2014 English cricket season, beginning in March and ending in late September.  Some of the images will be familiar to regular readers, others not. This is cricket from a spectator’s point of view, as opposed to the television viewer’s; there are no close-ups, no replays, no video analysis.  The players are only seen close-to when they are leaving the field or near the boundary and they sometimes seem to be there merely to provide some foreground to a landscape. There are trains and buses and flowers and rainbows.  It didn’t occur to me to make use of the photographs in this way until very late in the season, and I have resisted the temptation to do any artistic re-shaping of the material, so any themes and motifs (and I think there are some) have emerged, at most, semi-consciously.

The grounds that feature most often are (as you might expect) Grace Road, the County Ground Northampton, Fairfield Road (home of Market Harborough CC) and Little Bowden Recreation Ground.  There are also visits to Kibworth, Trent Bridge, Finedon Dolben, Leicester Ivanhoe, Bedford Modern School, Radlett Hove and Lubenham.

Some well-known players feature: M.S. Dhoni, Alastair Cook (in the form of a Waitrose advert), Marcus Trescothick.  There are some perhaps less well-known, except to readers of this blog: Graeme White (who begins and ends the season wandering in the outfield stroking his beard), Ned Eckersley, Nathan Buck, David Wainwright, Luke Fletcher, Stan of Barrow Town.  Bowler of the season Mark Footitt is featured in action; batsmen of the season Lyth’n’Lees appear on a scoreboard.  There are glimpses of some stars of the future (Sam Hain, Zac Chappell) and guest appearances from Dickie Bird, Peter Willey, a dog and a horse.  Then there are those players who are known only unto God and their nearest and dearest, and if they sometimes blend in indistinguishably with their better-known counterparts then – without wishing to labour the point – that is largely the point of this “film”.

I had originally intended to accompany the images with music, but have been defeated by a combination of the laws of copyright and technical ignorance, however those who persist until the last four minutes will be rewarded by a brief piece by Delius.  I realise this is likely to be a vain plea, but, rather like the season itself, the “film” does take a while to get into its stride: it becomes a lot more interesting after the first ten minutes and only really makes sense if watched in its entirety.  It also helps to view it in full-screen mode on a reasonably large screen.  Ideally, of course,  it would be seen at an I-Max cinema accompanied by a live orchestra, but that might have to wait for next season’s production.

(Don’t let this put you off, by the way, but your correspondent makes a cameo appearance in a glass case in the gents round the back of the pavilion at Trent Bridge at 22.08. Immortality, at last!)

 

Any comments most welcome, of course.

 

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.

 

Let Wise Nature Work Her Will

“The days dwindle down to a precious few … September …”

I’m afraid that this has been an undesirably busy month.  “My September in Cricket” will have to wait until October, or possibly even the further into the depths of Winter, when – after all – I shall have little else to write about.  But – just to dispel any impression that this blog has finally turned up its toes and handed in its dinner pail – here, almost exactly six months after the end of the Rugby and football seasons and the beginning of the cricket season, is my last look back at the the cricket:

Fairfield Rd in Autumn 2

Fairfield Rd in Autumn 1

and my first sight of the football:

On the way to football in Autumn

I think the main change since the Spring is that the gravestone in the right foreground, bearing the inscription from Tennyson

Then let wise Nature work her will,

And on my clay her darnels grow,

Come only when the days are still,

And at my head-stone whisper low,

And tell me if the woodbines blow

 has become a little obscured by ivy.

Long A-Growing

On this thoroughly miserable weekend (not helped by waking at 4.00 to the crowing, not of a cockerel, but Glenn McGrath) let us make a nostalgic pilgrimage to the site of the Stump.  Long time readers may be wondering whether it has somehow – hope against hope! – managed to revive, but I’m afraid the answer is that its mortal remains still slumber in the earth and the grass has begun to cover it.

Stump November 2013

I am reminded of the old song …

The trees they do grow high and the leaves they do grow green,
The day is passed and gone, my love, that you and I have seen.
It’s on a cold winter’s night that I must lie alone,
For the bonny boy is young but a-growing.

At the age of sixteen he was a married man,
And at the age of seventeen the father to a son,
And at the age of eighteen his grave it did grow green.
Cruel death had put an end to his growing.

 

Old Man, Young Men : Cricket In September (Chiefly In Photographs)

When I first saw that this year’s season was not due to finish until the last week of September I was thinking to myself that this could be heaven or this could be hell.  A glorious Indian summer of pale sunshine and golden leaf-drift, with plenty of scope for sub-Cardusian musing about dying falls, exits and entrances, youth and age, or a complete washout that made me wish I’d saved my annual leave for Christmas.  So far it’s been a little of both, although the scene outside my window as I type does suggest that the season itself is about to be called off for bad light.

We’ve had a little drizzle, the kind that County men come off for but clubmen play on through and which did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the boy in the black trousers who was on as a substitute fielder for Leicester Banks (a serious side in their heyday, featuring Darren Maddy in the not too distant past, not to mention Gary Lineker) against Harborough 2s

Harborough 2 v Leicester Banks

Our sub had clearly been making a close study of his seniors and boasted an impressive repertoire of handclapping, general encouragement (including, I suspect, the Gujurati equivalent of “Serious pace, buddy” and “areas“) and concerted appealing.

The weather held for the Final of the County Cup at Grace Road, and, having watched so many defeats there this season, it made a pleasant change to witness a victory, as Harborough comfortably defeated Lutterworth (Captain Chris Weir here displays the trophy to the wearers of the old baggy maroon)

Weir triumphant

Lutterworth contributed something of a Test Match atmosphere to the game, with a small brigade of the Barmy Army, including a very drunk suicide bomber, his explosive vest packed with Red Bull (who this small boy mistook for a pirate).

Suicide bomber

It’s always a shame to go through a season without at least one visit to Lord’s and I was quite looking forward to seeing the third day of Middlesex against Nottinghamshire, if only to catch up with the sides I’d seen in my first County fixture of the year at Trent Bridge and see where the season had taken them.  In short, Middlesex have had a moderately successful season and Notts a moderately unsuccessful one (they entered this game with a mathematical possibility of relegation).  Luke Fletcher has listened to tough-talking boss Newell’s wake-up call, cut back on the ale and established himself as a useful front-line seamer, Toby Roland-Jones has been injured and has probably now moved out of range of the England selectors’ radar and Tim Murtagh has taken more wickets than anyone else in the Championship without anyone seriously suggesting an England call-up.

Like the young boy from Banks the Old Man continues to play on imperturbably through the murk and drizzle (and, if you look very closely, you can see that he is surrounded by a cloud of small gnats, which would have pleased John Keats)

The Old Man with gnats

Unfortunately, not a single ball was bowled all day, which gave me plenty of time to explore the upper reaches of the Mound Stand and I came away with a useful tip.  If anyone offers you a suspiciously cheap ticket for row 25, seat no. 6 I’d pass, if I were you, unless you happen to be a specialist fielding coach.  The view is really very restricted

Restricted view

Into every life a little rain must fall, I suppose, and I ought to be grateful that this was the first complete washout of the season, in spite of the fact that I’d just paid £16.00 to see as much cricket as someone sitting in row 25, seat 6.  A huge compensation was the opportunity to enjoy a couple of drinks with fellow-blogger Chris Smith of Declaration Game fame and some of his ex-teammates from Turl C.C. who had chosen the day for a reunion.  Do follow Chris’s blog, if you don’t already, by the way, it’s always excellent value and he’s also very generous in spreading the word about other people’s writings – see my blogroll for details or follow him on Twitter at  

There are some players who make themselves known as rumours a long time before they arrive (in the sense of playing first-class cricket) rather like a tornado announcing itself as a faint wisp of smoke on the distant horizon.  Ramprakash was a name I’d heard often before he first played for Middlesex and tall tales of “the little lad at Loughborough” long preceded my first sight of James Taylor in Leicestershire colours.  Too often these wisps of smoke turn out to be elderly Skodas with faulty exhaust pipes rather than tornadoes, but if anyone fancies a very long-term punt on the composition of the England XI in 2023 they might want to make a note of the name Ben “Fishy” Coddington.  Coddington has been playing for Leicestershire Under-14s this season and Those Who Ought To Know seriously rate him (“better than Shiv (Thakor)” being one of the milder recommendations).  Saturday’s game against Syston was the first time I’d seen him in action.

Certainly if I hadn’t known who he was I would never have guessed that he was 13 (or possibly 14).  The context of the game was that Harborough, needing a win (as opposed to a winning draw) to retain a chance of finishing top of the Premier League, had made a decent 230 something in their 45 overs.  Syston had started slowly and had little realistic chance of victory at 4 wickets down, when young Coddington came to the crease.  As you will see, Harborough adopted an attacking field (here we see Coddington on strike with 8 wickets down and about 4 overs to go)

Coddington defiant

The boy not only stood on the burning deck but positively strutted about on it (one thing he does not lack, I’m told, is self-confidence).  Not the least impressive aspect of this, I thought, was that faced with nine fieldsmen in close, he didn’t take the obvious options of blocking or trying to loft the ball over the field, but placed his shots carefully through the gaps between them (and I should point out here that our bowling featured the two ex-County men Innes and White and the talented England U-19 spinner Ben Collins).

I couldn’t tell you precisely how many runs he made, because the scoreboard was undermanned and not displaying individual scores, but it was enough and, having steered his side home, he left the field to some well-deserved applause.

Coddington triumphant

It occurs to me that, if his parents had really wanted to burden him with expectation, they could have named him W. G. Grace Coddington, which would have meant that he would have had to become either a great cricketer or the Creative Director of Vogue, but perhaps Ben was a more sensible choice.

So there you are.  Two top tips in one post.  And two more games to go.

Youth And Age At Fairfield Road (with a Poem by Norman Nicholson)

Equinox.  The last of Summer, the first day of Autumn and the last of the cricket season.

It didn’t feel particularly Autumnal at Fairfield Road yesterday, where Harborough beat Kegworth in their last competitive fixture.  There were a few fallen leaves, but the outfield still seems to think it’s June.

Leicestershire U-15 seamer Patrick Sadd (who seems to have grown about six inches since the start of the season) made his 1st XI debut, taking three wickets and – at the other end of the spectrum – Rob White (who has just left Northants) – made another nonchalant century, ending the season, and winning the match, with a huge six into the new pavilion.

I think I’ve derived as much pleasure from watching Harborough this season as I have from watching County Cricket, and considerably more than trying to follow the seamless circus of International Cricket.  So here, partly to celebrate the fact that – just in time for the end of the season – I’ve finally got around to buying a camera that doesn’t have a severe case of floaters, is a brief record of the day’s events.

The batsman takes evasive action against Sadd …

… mid-afternoon – an unsuccessful appeal against White …

… looking at the Big Sky …

… spot the ball (it’s in the pavilion) …

a last handshake …

… White returns triumphant …

… a last look back, as darkness falls.

And here – to mark the end of the season – is a poem by Norman Nicholson.  Millom (an industrial town in Cumbria) was his home town.

.

Millom

The soft mouths of summer bite at the eyes,

Toothless as a rose and red as the ragged robin;

Mouths on lip

Rouse to sleep

And the green of the field reflected in the skies.

The elder-flower curls inward to a dream,

And memories swarm as a halo of midges;

Children on the grass,

Wicket-high, pass,

In blue sailor jackets and jerseys brown and cream.

Among the champion, legendary men

I see my childhood roll like a cricket-ball.

To watch that boy

Is now my joy –

That he could watch me not was his joy then.

Winter well, one and all.

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.

Stump Watch For August 2012

The Stump is fraying slightly at the edges, though undecided which season it’s meant to be.

In the background a King Charles spaniel tries to chase a flock (if that’s the word) of low-flying swifts, providing better entertainment than many of the cricket matches I’ve seen this season.  Perhaps this could be turned into an organised sport?  Perhaps the BBC might even be able to afford to buy the rights to it? I’d tune in.