There are people – let us, for the sake of argument, call them me – who dislike music at cricket matches. Some of them dislike not only the sudden blasts that accompany boundaries and wickets at televised one dayers, but even the playing of ‘Jerusalem’ before the start of international matches. How much more dignified it would be if the players took the field to a polite ripple of applause and the faint susurrus of flicked-through Playfairs, they think. Would anyone who remembered those days have hankered after musical accompaniment?
Well, apparently, yes. This is from a collection of ‘lighter pieces’ from the Observer by R.C. Robertson-Glasgow (writing in 1946).
“Alas, for our decline from romance to utility. When eight-five years ago, H.H. Stephenson took the first England cricket team to Australia, the band at Melbourne played their guests into the field to the strains of ‘God Save the Queen.’ Imagine a band at a modern Test Match. I suppose it is conceivable, if they played ‘Rock of Ages’ and the ‘Dead March in Saul.‘
Those same people are rather inclined to regret the advent of coloured clothing, and the numbering and naming of shirts. I – I mean they – are also inclined (not entirely consistently) to complain that the wearing of helmets makes it difficult to tell which player is which. But surely no-one with an ounce of poetry in their souls would, in the days when players were uniformly turned-out in crisp white flannels and severely classical caps, have wished it any different? Well again, apparently, yes.
‘With what finery, too, that first team cheered and enlightened the spectators. Each English player wore a very light helmet-shaped hat, with a sash and hat-ribbon of a distinctive hue, corresponding to colours set down in the score-card against each man’s name. This gay conception died far too young. I like to fancy Hendren in heliotrope and Sutcliffe in sea-green. Douglas Jardine did his best with his Harlequin cap, but by then most of the Australian spectators were beyond the emollient influence of bright colours.
England and most of the Counties have settled to the uniformity of the darker blues, though Surrey struggle on with chocolate brown, Worcestershire with green. It is left to the Schools and clubs to illuminate the darkness. Rugby still take the field against Marlborough in light-blue shirts, and the I Zingari cap shines like a beacon in the mist. But it must be admitted that, in modern cricket, versicolority is apt to be rated as a sign of incompetence, until the contrary is proved.’
It’s possible that Robertson-Glasgow – had he lived long enough – would have been an enthusiast for the astonishing versicolority and the dancing girls of the IPL. Or, perhaps, there are those who will always be inclined to hanker after something better than what they have, and who will – if hankering after the future seems too hopeful – hanker after the past.
H.H. Stephenson was the first man to be awarded a hat for taking three wickets in three balls, and ended his days as a coach at Uppingham School. He died in Rutland.
This is the side he took on England’s first overseas tour, en route to the United States in 1859 (a couple of years before they first toured Australia). Stephenson is fifth from the left. They do look appealingly raffish – particularly, I suppose, when seen from the point of view of austerity-frozen 1946.