I’ve Seen Clouds : June In Cricket

Leicestershire v Derbyshire and Worcestershire, Grace Road, County Championship, June 2014

So, how has June been?  Looking back at the photographs I’ve taken, it seems to have been a very green month (in fact I don’t think I can remember a greener) with some blues and some awesome (in the non American teen sense) cloud formations.  The cricketers seem to have been a detail, more a pretext than a subject.

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But then the cricket itself has become a little predictable.  Leicestershire have now played 8 Championship matches, have won 0, lost 4 and drawn 4.  As suggested by their haul of bonus points (41, more than all but the two top sides, Hampshire and Worcestershire, who have both played one match more) they have not been playing badly.  Four of the top 20 run-scorers in the division come from Leicestershire, as do 2 of the top 20 wicket-takers.  Apart from the first-day fiasco against Kent, they have been on at least equal terms by the end of day 2, and mostly still in the hunt by the end of day 3.  But still we are bottom of the table.

My new routine – to attend on a Sunday and a Tuesday – means that, as there’s been a merciful absence of rain, I generally see the same side bat twice.  Against Derbyshire, it was Leicestershire, against Worcestershire it was the opposition.  In both cases the first day was encouraging.  Against Derbyshire, Leicestershire recovered from 11-3 to 311, in the face of some lively bowling from Footitt and Palladino.  Against Worcestershire, some lively bowling of our own from an all-pace attack removed the top-of-the-tablers for 237.

On the two third days I caught the end of a century from Derbyshire’s no. 8, David Wainwright and then saw him take 5 quick wickets to reduce Leicestershire to 113-6.  A workmanlike cricketer from Pontefract, whose baggy cap gives him the air of a young Gilbert O’Sullivan, he may never before have been cheered off the field twice in a day

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and may never be again.  Against Worcester I saw our all-pace attack struggle on a pitch that was starting to take spin, another century for Daryl Mitchell and a maiden ton for young Tom Fell.  On the last days, in my absence, Derbyshire knocked off the target of 188 for the loss of a single wicket and Ajmal, predictably, took 6-19.  The losing margins were 9 wickets and 234 runs respectively.

So, those are the facts, but what it is to be done?  I don’t know.  It might help if Ronnie Sarwan were to relinquish the Captaincy in favour of Josh Cobb (or, since I don’t know the players well enough to make that kind of judgement, anyone else who has a genuine ambition to Captain a successful Leicestershire side – Rob Taylor, perhaps).  As I write, we have finished on roughly equal terms after the first day against Surrey at the Oval and there really isn’t any good reason why we shouldn’t win that or any other match.  But then reason, as my good friend the Gnome was pointing out just the other day, doesn’t seem to have much to do with it.

The littleness of human existence is an odd lesson to take away from a game of cricket, but then what other opportunities are there in modern life to spend seven hours comparing a spectacle of human striving with the vastness of the vaults of heaven (so to speak)?  And at three in the morning in January, dreaming of Flaming June at the cricket, what is it that I’m thinking of?  Whether Matt Boyce can ever truly establish him at the top of the order, or this?

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or this?

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A Gnome comments:

Gnome 2

Scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren’t you?  Midsummer madness, I calls it …

 

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A Last Look Back : Bedford School And Belper Meadows

(I suppose this is a kind of “Extra”, such as you get on DVDs after the main feature has finished.  A couple of matches I attended this season, but didn’t write about at the time.)

Bedfordshire v Hertfordshire, Bedford School, July 2013

Derbyshire 2nd XI v MCC YC, Belper Meadows, August 2013

“Dr. Johnson remarked that if he had no reference to posterity he would spend his life driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman, and, never minding the company of pretty women, there are few more enjoyable ways of spending the English summer in peace-time than riding briskly about the country in trains and cars from one cricket ground to another.  To be sure an object beyond the mere watching of cricket is necessary lest eternal contemplation lead to surfeit, to spiritual malaise and dissatisfaction …”  Dudley Carew, from ‘To the Wicket’ (1946)

Quite so.

I think that you would have to watch cricket professionally for there to be any danger of it leading to “spiritual malaise and dissatisfaction” but, nourishing as a constant diet of good plain cricket at Grace and Wantage Roads may be, I do sometimes hanker after pastures new, particularly when I look through the grounds where Minor Counties and Second XI cricket are played.  Bovey Tracey, Shifnal, Cresselly, Redruth, Mumbles, Great and Little Tew, Aston Rowant, Copdock, Ombersley, Frocester, Sidmouth (if you have a spare moment, try rearranging them into a poem).  I don’t suppose, the state of the railways being what it is, that I shall ever see cricket played at most of those grounds, but I did take advantage of the T20 break this year to visit two of the more picturesque sounding grounds within reasonable travelling distance – Lady Bay in Nottingham (which I wrote about earlier in the season) and Belper Meadows in Derbyshire.

I also paid a visit to Bedford School, where I saw Bedfordshire play Hertfordshire, once, that is, I’d managed to gain entry to the place.  Locating the School is easy enough, but finding an entrance that was open involved a complete circumnavigation of the perimeter walls, rattling at a succession of locked gates (they didn’t seem to be expecting many spectators).  Once inside, the pitch was one of many, overlooked on one side by an imposing red brick building

Bedford School 1

on another by the Pavilion, modern and largely dedicated to Alistair Cook, though it also displayed honours boards that stretch back as far as E.H.D. Sewell

Bedford School Pavilion

and on a third by a marquee, which seemed to be there to accommodate the great, the good and the red-trousered of Bedfordshire cricket

Bedford School marquee

Apparently I was there on President’s Day, and at lunch the great and good disappeared into the marquee, not to re-emerge until tea.  I didn’t have the impression that Bedfordshire were taking the game particularly seriously, after the initial session, as Hertfordshire piled up a considerable total on what seemed to be a fairly dead pitch.  Periodically a huge cheer was heard from the marquee, answered (ironically, perhaps) by the Bedfordshire fieldsmen and the Captain spent most of the afternoon performing imitations of his teammates’ fielding.  At tea, the G&G emerged, fairly well-lubricated in some cases and I headed home, perhaps to return another day.

Somewhere I will definitely be returning another day (if I’m spared) will be Belper Meadows, where I went to watch a pleasant enough match between Derbyshire 2nd XI and the MCC Young Cricketers.  Belper is a small town with a distinguished industrial history eight miles from Derby, on the edge of the Peak District, not quite pretty enough to attract much in the way of tourism.  As at Bedford, I had some difficulty locating the ground and found myself in a cafe in search of a cheese and onion roll and some directions.  An elderly man, who I would say was on the cusp of eccentricity and something else, offered to accompany me to the ground, telling me that he walked to Belper from Derby and back every day and soliloquising about the joys of the single life.  I did wonder quite where he was taking me, but he did indeed lead me down a narrow passageway beside the town library (all the best grounds seem to be reached by narrow passageways) and there it was.  Technically the club is Belper Meadows and the ground Christchurch Meadows and it too is overlooked by an imposing red brick building, in this case a mill, built in 1913

Belper

and, on another, by a vista of rolling countryside

Belper 2

I remember that this match was at the same time as the hoo-ha about Stuart Broad walking or not amid fervent debate as to the existence or otherwise of the Spirit of Cricket.  I have always pictured this Spirit of Cricket as a shy nymph (perhaps portrayed by Sir Edward Poynter) unlikely to reveal herself under the glare of television cameras and the gaze of thousands of Test Match spectators, but who may be surprised sometimes (when you are least expecting it) in the quiet places such as Belper Meadows.  I may have sought the elusive Spirit in many places this season, but felt I was closest to her presence here.

Belper is on the Derwent Valley Line (as are many cricket grounds)

Belper

pleasant with lavender, buzzing, on the day I visited, with butterflies and bees

Belper Station

and I think (pace Dr. Johnson) that had I no reference to posterity, or indeed practicality, I could quite happily spend my Summers riding the Line from one ground to another.

Enough looking back, I suppose, as we are now well into the football season.  I couldn’t help noticing that, sandwiched between Christchurch Meadows and the Mill, was a tidy little football ground with some rather attractive cowshed-style stands, the home of Belper F.C., so perhaps I will have another reason to ride the Derwent Valley Line before the year is out.

What I Did On My Holidays : County Cricket From July To August

Various games, July & August 2013

The last time I wrote about a County Championship match was on June 22nd.  Since then an entire Ashes series has been and gone, as has this Summer’s T20 Competition and most children’s Summer holidays.  In the background the Championship has been creeping surreptitiously along, odd games fitted in here and there between the shorter forms.  It began again in earnest last week and should have the whole of September to itself, as it had most of April and May, like an elderly Duke reduced to living in the wings of a grand house.

Writing about several matches at once should allow some sort of pattern to emerge.  Since June, I’ve seen Lancashire beat Northamptonshire convincingly and dismiss Leicestershire.  Yorkshire I’ve seen crush Derbyshire like a bug, and, less predictably, beat Nottinghamshire with equal ease.  Lancashire have, as I predicted, overtaken Northants at the top of Division 2.  Northants have hung on in second place (and should have acquired some extra confidence from winning the T20 and leading their group in the YB40).  With Copeland returning, Willey on song and none of the sides below them getting their acts together, even the congenital pessimists at Wantage Road should be secretly confident of joining Lancashire in Division 1 next year.

None of the days I’ve seen have been hugely memorable in themselves, and I somehow seem to have contrived to miss the most significant performances (and it doesn’t help that I’ve mostly been distracted by having the TMS bantz-fest in my earpiece).   When Lancashire beat Northants I caught the double century by Simon Katich – as vast and featureless as the Gobi Desert – that enabled Lancashire to overhaul Northants’ first innings of 310, but missed Simon Kerrigan’s 7-37 in the second innings that set up a 10 wicket victory and drew him further into the selectors’ Radar.  At Chesterfield, which was a joy as always

Queen's Park Chesterfield

I arrived the day after Alex Lees had made 275 (though the Derbyshire greybeards were still buzzingly grudgingly about it).  I’m not sure there was anything historically significant about  Lancashire’s defeat of Leicestershire (apart from more wickets from Kerrigan) but, if there was, I missed that too.

It is tempting to see all this as the natural order of things reasserting itself.  The splitting of the Championship in two was meant to result in the strongest sides being concentrated in the First Division, but, thanks to cricket’s “glorious uncertainty”, this never quite happens.  With two relegated from a Division of nine, one poor season, or even unusually bad luck with the weather can result in a strong side being relegated and one season of punching above their weight can mean a “small club” can be promoted. Last year Lancashire, who had won the Championship the year before with a young and largely home-grown side, were relegated.  Yorkshire, who had suffered the same fate the year before, were promoted in their place, along with Derbyshire, who had taken advantage of the foul early season weather to establish a runaway lead while others were dawdling.

This season Lancashire have been able to fortify their youthful batting with the acquisition of the multi-county Katich, while retaining Ashwell Prince, but their real strength has been in their bowling.  The routine is that, in the first innings, Kyle Hogg and the 38-year-old Glen Chapple

Chapple

dismiss the top order, supported, if necessary, by a decent selection of second string seamers, before Kerrigan winkles out the lower middle order.  In the second innings (or if the pitch is taking spin), it is generally Kerrigan who does the damage.  Kerrigan’s eye-catching figures this season (and the season before) don’t exactly flatter him, but they do present his bowling in the best possible light, having been achieved in the best possible circumstances.

Yorkshire should (if the weather hadn’t intervened) have won the Second Division last year by a distance and they look on course to do so in the First this year.  Their batting remains home produced, an apparently limitless supply of talented young batsmen flowing from their Academy.  They have been able to replace Root with the equally talented but more pugnacious Lees, the absence of Bairstow (seen here in unflattering but not untypical pose at Trent Bridge)

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has been compensated for by the steady emergence of Ballance, who may well in turn supplant him (and the luckless Taylor) in the England side.

As was the case when they last won the Championship in 2001, they have a relentless four man pace attack.  Then it was Hoggard, Kirby, Silverwood and Sidebottom, now it is Brooks, Patterson, Plunkett and – semper eadem – Sidebottom again. Brooks (bought in from Northants) is as hostile a bowler as I’ve seen this season and batters the batsmen from one end

Jack Brooks

while the still impressively hirsute Sidebottom (35) bowls them out from the other.

Sidebottom

They too have a spinner who was once talked of as an England prospect in Adil Rashid who is still in the side, but mainly for his batting these days.  He was allowed a spell at Chesterfield, which disappeared all over the park, but I rather had the impression that they were giving him a bowl to humour him and that he would not have been allowed on in more testing circumstances.

So, Yorkshire for Champions (probably), Lancashire and Northants promoted, Leicestershire for the wooden spoon and Derbyshire … well, I had them down for relegation at the outset and they have been attached firmly to the bottom of the table all season. In an amusing twist, though, they have won their last two matches and it looks as though Surrey – the biggest, richest County of them all – might be the ones we will be welcoming to Grace Road next season.  I’m sure they will be looking forward to that.

I am conscious, in writing this, that it sounds like the ramblings of a football pundit as the Leagues enter the crucial Easter period.  There are many other signs that cricket is becoming more like football (such as star players threatening to leave if their side gets relegated and Counties sacking their coaches to stave off relegation).  I suppose this is pretty much what the authorities were hoping for when they split the Divisions in the first place, but I can’t help feeling a slight nostalgia for the days when a County who were in a comfortable mid-table position in late July could look forward to dozing their way through August, and the most the players had think about were their averages.  But in that, as in so much else, I am no doubt out of tune with my times.

I Saw Joe Root In His Prime

 

 

 

 

Root and Carberry

Derbyshire v New Zealand, Derby, 6th May & England  Lions v New Zealand, Grace Road, 10-11 May 2013

Last week I took the opportunity to have a couple of looks at the New Zealand tourists, as they prepared for the coming Test series with one game against Derbyshire (effectively a sort of Derbyshire 1 1/2 XI) and another against England Lions (pretty much the England 2nd XI).  I saw very little of New Zealand’s batting, but I’d say collectively their four seamers (Boult, Southee, Wagner and Bracewell) would make a very useful English County attack who shouldn’t really trouble a Test side – unless they happened to be playing in England in May, that is.

Before it became fashionable to insult Grace Road, the done thing was to complain about the County Ground in Northampton and, before that, it was usually Derby.  Although this piece of publicity material is a little idealised (you can’t actually see Chatsworth or the crooked spire of Chesterfield in the background)

Derbyshire

they have been making efforts to beautify the ground, with a new marquee and a temporary stand.  If you can avert your eyes from the Pavilion and the ricketty old stand with ‘East Midlands Demolition Company’ on it and ignore the constant roar from the infernal ring road, it can, on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday, be a very pleasant place to watch cricket.  Unlike at Grace Road, which I’ll come to in a minute, there was a very decent crowd, many of them families with small children, who seemed to have been attracted by the chance to sit in the sun and eat ice-cream (the best on the circuit, incidentally) rather than any particular interest in watching New Zealand.

In the eyes of the press, the story was what one of them (rather melodramatically) described as a ‘shoot out’ between Wagner and Bracewell for the role of third seamer in the Test side.  I’d agree with them that there wasn’t a great deal in it.  What did distinguish the South African born Wagner was his Steve Kirby-style act of following through to within a few feet of the batsman and pulling faces at him.  After Billy Godleman had hit one ball for four Wagner followed this up by first miming throwing the ball at him and then actually letting it go, knocking his bat from his hand.  This would have been more impressive if he hadn’t been considerably shorter than Godleman, and earned him a warning from the Umpire, but may be enough to give him the edge over Bracewell in the eyes of the Selectors.

If the crowd at Derby was respectable, the attendance at Grace Road was frankly pathetic for a match featuring the full New Zealand Test side and an England Lions XI featuring one or two potential all-time greats.  On the Friday the paying customers were outnumbered by a huge contingent from the ECB (there for a strategy meeting, apparently) including Giles, Flower and a smartly-suited Andrew Strauss.  For some reason (perhaps they were afraid of an assassination attempt on Kevin Shine) this seemed to involve a massive security operation, including extra stewards, a draconian enforcement of the ‘smoking policy’ and Matthew Hoggard being ordered from his perch on top of the Fox Bar.  And all for a crowd that was smaller than I’ve seen at some Second XI matches.

Much of the crowd was a made up of a group of what appeared to be full-time autograph hunters, who seemed to be stalking Strauss, in particular, with the cunning and avidity of a group of tweenage Beliebers.

Autograph Hunters

I didn’t learn much about the New Zealand batting.  This was my only sight of McCullum, who edged one off Onions when he was on one (imagine the roar if that had happened at Lord’s!)

McCullum

– nor the Lions’ bowling.  Rather like the New Zealanders, Onions, Woakes, Barker and Roland-Jones looked like a useful County attack, particularly in May, though it was Roland-Jones who seems to have the knack of picking up wickets.

The Lions’ reply got off to a flyer with three successive No Balls off the first three deliveries from Boult (a problem that continued throughout the afternoon)

No ball

– but the big story was, of course, the simultaneous appearance of Root, Bairstow and Taylor.

Root’s talent seems to lie in an iron determination to ‘execute his plan’ (as they say), regardless of any ideas the bowlers might have.  His plan for the day seemed to be to make 50 by tea, which involved a lot of this

Root

and this

Joe Root

before moving from 44 to 50 with a six into the Pavilion, then accelerating to 100 by the close of play.  In the two hours of play on Saturday his batting was positively Apollonian, and was supported very effectively by the low handed shovelling and slapping of Johnny Bairstow.

There was a reprise of the New Zealanders’ coconut shy routine, incidentally, with Boult, I think, banging the ball into the ground from close range so that it bounced over the batsman’s head and another chuck hitting Umpire Jeremy Lloyds on the leg with what purported to be an attempted run out (provoking an outbreak of tittering in the slips).  Lloyds was responsible for most of the no-balling and had turned down a couple of appeals.

Once the rain set in, Bairstow (who seems a thoroughly likeable bloke) commandeered the TV in the Fox Bar and spent the afternoon watching Rugby League.  James Taylor, however, who had been dismissed for two before I arrived at the ground, headed off  for a session in the indoor nets, perhaps hoping that a win in the Cup Final for his team – Manchester City – might provide him with some consolation for a doubly deflating day.

Taylor

I think there is a real danger of England losing a great talent in Taylor, though it is worth bearing in mind that he’s still only 23.  He does have one flaw, and has always had it since is his days at Leicestershire, which is his tendency to play across his pads to balls pitched up on off or middle stump.  Once he is set he gets away with it, but, in the first few overs he is in, he is terribly vulnerable to being out LBW.  If he tries to compensate for this by playing straight he tends to get caught behind (as he was on Saturday).  As I have to no pretensions to being a batting coach or a sports psychologist I’m afraid I have no advice to offer as to a cure, but I suspect a minor technical flaw may be turning into a mental block.

This would be a pity. I would always prefer to watch Taylor’s witty, inventive, brave batsmanship  in preference to Bairstow’s jolly bludgeoning or even Root’s rather glacial classicism, which inspires awe rather than affection.  And in a side with five established batsmen (including Prior) there must surely be room for a little self-indulgence.

But perhaps his omission for this series will work in his favour.  Taylor is at his best against spin and real pace and his natural element would be a spitting turner in Chennai or a fierce lifter in Perth.  His weakness is against the English county seamer in May, which, as I have suggested, is pretty much what he would be facing next week.

Two Sessions And A Funeral : My July In Cricket

When cricketers keep a diary of the season and they’ve hit a real low it is traditionally indicated by the words “No entry”.  I’m tempted to try the same approach, but – for the record – here is a brief account of my attempts to watch cricket in the month of July 2012 (“The year without a Summer”).

Middlesex 2nd XI v Surrey 2nd XI , Radlett

The fascination of Radlett for me is that it’s the first ground I can see from the train on my journey into work when the darkness begins to lift at the end of February.  It seems to offer hope that the Winter is ending and Summer cannot be far away.  Ha!

I had two alternative days pencilled in for this visit.  The first was postponed so that the Surrey players could attend Tom Maynard’s funeral. The second offered just enough hope of play to make the journey worthwhile (there was a spell of bright sunshine between Wellingborough and Bedford) but by the time I arrived it was the familiar wet pitch/thin drizzle scenario.  I cut my losses and spent the afternoon in St Albans Cathedral instead.

On the two days I didn’t attend there seems to have been quite a decent game.  I note that Surrey’s 2nd XI seam attack (Jon Lewis, Tim Linley and Chris Jordan) would give Leicestershire’s first choice bowlers a run for the money.

There are actually two grounds and two pavilions there (the one visible from the train is the reserve ground) and I see from this week’s Cricketer Magazine that Middlesex are specifically developing it as a ‘base away from London‘ with ‘state-of-the-art gym, physiotherapy room, dressing room and first-class quality grass pitches’.  How the other half live, eh?

This is the main pavilion –

and this the one on the reserve ground –

Warwickshire v Sussex, Edgbaston, County Championship

It’s always seemed odd that I’ve never made it to Edgbaston, given how close it is – as the crow flies – to where I live.  But then the crow wouldn’t have to take the train to New Street (dread station!) or pay to get in.  In any case, there was so much rain that I didn’t even bother setting off.

Leicestershire v Worcestershire, Grace Road, CB40

This CB40 match had been cunningly slipped in on a Saturday afternoon, but they didn’t quite succeed in throwing me off the scent and I managed to catch the first and worst half of it (the start was delayed until 3.15).  There was some decent batting from the Pears’ Phil Hughes (who didn’t look as unorthodox as I’d expected) and Moeen Ali (who makes Hashim Amla look like he’s sporting a bit of five’o’clock shadow)

but what caught my eye was the performance in the field of the Foxes’ bargain basement acquisition Mike Thornley.

Thornley (nickname ‘The Major’) was released by his first county (Sussex) but given a second chance by appearing for the Unicorns.  Since being picked up by Leicestershire he’s impressed with the bat but I didn’t realise he bowled as well.  He is old – at 25 – by the standards of the current Foxes squad but – in the field – looks rather like a reincarnation of Charles Palmer (though I don’t think he wears glasses).  He bowls the kind of military medium that you’d expect to see from someone who used to be quite useful in his youth turning over his arm in the Parents’ Match and doesn’t seem to have got the memo about the need for athleticism in the field for the modern multi-dimensional cricketer.  I have hopes of seeing him bowling lobs before the season’s out.

In the second – and better – half of the match, which I missed, Leicestershire won, thanks to a century from Ronnie Sarwan and some hitting at the finish from Harborough’s own Rob Taylor.  With Josh Cobb now installed as the one-day Captain, hopes are rising for this very young side – if, of course, they can ignore the waggling of cheque-books (or credit cards, I suppose, in today’s money) from the region of Trent Bridge.

Northamptonshire v Glamorgan, Wantage Road, County Championship

Having watched one session of a CB40 match on the Saturday I followed it up with one session of a Championship match on the Sunday afternoon.  This seemed to have been cut-and-pasted from another season altogether or possibly another era.  In bright sunshine, promising youngster Rob Newton and blaster from the past David Sales progressed to almost simultaneous centuries against some woeful Glamorgan bowling.

(Interesting to see – by the way – that Roy Virgin has branched out into running health clubs.)

Sales is a fine batsman (think Rob Key-cum-Ali Brown) who, if it hadn’t been for a series of injuries and possibly the arrival of Duncan Fletcher, would surely have been given a chance by England.  Last season he averaged in the low teens and finished bottom of the Northants’ batting averages and most experienced judges (including those at Wantage Road) would not have expected to see much more of him.  But here he was rolling back the years and looking a fine prospect.  I see from The Cricketpaper that he has been ‘given permission to circulate his details to other counties’ and I hope some of them had their spies at Wantage Road.  Probably too old for Nottinghamshire, though.

Derbyshire v Yorkshire, Queen’s Park, Chesterfield, County Championship

If I had to sit at a cricket ground and watch a series of pitch inspections I suppose it would be Queen’s Park.  Everything was in place – the sun reflecting off the marquee –

the sound of children’s laughter from the playground –

the merry whoop-whoop of the miniature railway, some optimistic signs

the only thing missing was the cricket, which was abandoned shortly before 2.00, with a ritualised series of handshakes on the balcony –

I should have known something was up when there was no-one there to charge admission on the gate – though I saw that one thrifty couple (from Yorkshire, presumably) were taking no chances and had set up their deck chairs outside the perimeter fence.

So, on to August, when I’m planning to …

But, if you want to make the Gods of Cricket laugh, write about your plans on your blog.

Suspected Cricket Overdose At Grace Road

Leicestershire v

West Indies, Tour Match, 2nd June – Netherlands, CB40, 4th June – Derbyshire, County Championship, 5th June (all at Grace Road)

I’m always inclined to be a bit sniffy about cricketers who complain that there’s too much cricket played (as most of them do).  I’m sure there are accountants who feel that there’s too much accountancy.  If I only had to work three days a week I’d be much fresher and better able to perform to the peak of my abilities.  But after having spent three out of the four days of the Jubilee weekend at Grace Road I’m beginning to see their point.  It felt too much and by Tuesday I was almost looking forward to not returning there until the County Championship resumes at the end of July.

The Jubilee itself was not greatly in evidence.  A bit of bunting and a mostly limp flag to the right of the Charles Palmer Suite.

The first of the three matches was against the West Indies.  I’ve been following the progress of the ’76 tour through back copies of the Cricketer recently (mostly in the Meet when it’s been raining).  They played 26 first class matches (winning 18) and ended the tour on 8th September with a 50 over match against a Northern Leagues XI in Harrogate.  This year they’ve played, I think two matches other than Internationals and this 2-day affair, which was presumably arranged to give them a little practice in between tests.

It was pretty clear that the rain would arrive sooner or later (here a local suggests where it’s likely to arrive from)

and there was just time for Bravo and Barath to show that they can make runs against a depleted Leicestershire attack comprising Robbie Joseph, a couple of promising teenagers (Thakor looking good), Harborough’s own Rob Taylor and Nadeem Malik (Hoggard and Buck had been rotated out of the side).

I’d imagine that the ’76 side proceeded around the country in an almost visible cloud of majesty and awe and would have been mobbed by the local West Indian population wherever they went.  This side seemed a small scale operation, attended by a few camp followers who set up camp in the Charles Palmer Suite, but friendly and approachable.  Chanderpaul, in particular, who wasn’t playing, was happy to delay his lunch to chat with some autograph hunters and others (noticeably as many Asian as Afro-Caribbean).  Even without his sponsored war paint he has an amazingly intense gaze, like some kind of fierce small wildcat suprised in a bush by a flashlight.

In the absence of our few more experienced players, it did give some of youngsters a chance to get a feel for what it would be like if they could stay together and become a formidable side in five years time (which, of course, they won’t).

One day all this will be ours! Unless we’re playing for Nottinghamshire.

Sunday was washed out (by way of variation I spent it listening to a brass band in torrential rain).

Monday saw the visit of the Netherlands.  At Grace Road we like to make our visitors feel at home, and someone had thoughtfully placed this in a window of the pavilion (technically Belgian, but it’s the thought that counts)

If you’d had to guess which of the two sides were the Test-playing side with an awesome history and which the Associate nation I’m not sure it would be a simple matter, except that Holland (the side and their followers) had the feel of a side on the way up.

Although all the players (except their overseas man) are qualified for Holland through birth or residence, they have arrived there by various routes – via Australia, South Africa, England, Pakistan.  I sat between a charmingly dry man from Warwickshire who was the grandfather of one player and a family of Manchester-Pakistanis who were the cousins of another.

The Warwickshire man (who explained that he hadn’t been to Leicester since 1949 – “It was a very diferent town in those days, of course”) turned to me after a few overs of Holland’s innings and asked “Tell me – is this a typical Leicestershire attack?”.  Well, yes and no.  This time Hoggard and Joseph had been left out (I get the impression we’ve written this competition off and are putting all our eggs in the T20 basket) but – without going into details – it was a pretty woeful performance.  The Dutch made 304-3.  When Leicester came out to bat I suggested to my new companion that if they could get our openers out early they shouldn’t have too many problems.  Cobb was out for 0 in the first over and – in spite of a century for Sarwan – there never seemed any likelihood of us reaching the target.

Tuesday saw the arrival of another well-motivated and cohesive side who have built up a head of steam this season – Derbyshire (currently top of Division 2).  Winning this match (unlikely anyway given the weather forecast) was pretty much our last chance to have a chance of promotion this season.  Leicester won the toss and chose to bat.  7-3 ten minutes after the start with a hat-trick for Palladino.

Although we did well – after this start – to make it to 177  it was a day to be endured rather than enjoyed, constantly on the verge of rain and bitterly cold.  Amost every conversation I had with other Members was gloomy  – about Monday’s bowling, Tuesday’s batting, the smoking ban, a perceived lack of leadership, the club’s attitude to the members, the weather …  But perhaps an improvement in the weather and a successful T20 campaign will change that.

I suppose one reason for the Netherlands’ visible enthusiasm and closeness

was that they are a semi-professional side (mostly) and these matches are the highlight of their reason.  For some of the Leicestershire side (and those of the Membership who attend every match – which is the majority) it must have been just another day in what’s already been a wearisome and frustrating season.

Matthew Hoggard’s head down into the wind “ploughman trudge” seems to be getting more marked as the season progresses, and you do wonder how much longer he’ll be prepared to just keep buggering on like this.

In out, in out – it’s a bloody life sentence …

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Picture Post : Bedford Modern School and Queen’s Park, Chesterfield

I seem to have been too busy watching cricket recently to write very much about it, or anything else, and the season seems to be hurtling to its conclusion faster than I can keep up with it.  So, in attempt to clear the mounting backlog of matches, here is a largely pictorial account of two of them.

Bedfordshire v Cambridgeshire, Bedford Modern School, 26th July 2011

Derbyshire v Northamptonshire, Chesterfield, County Championship, 19th August 2011

Bedford is one stop further up the line from London than Luton, where I last saw Bedfordshire in action, and is slightly more distinctive of the county and less like a suburb of the capital. 

Bedford Modern School is the less well-known brother (a sort of Eric Bedser) of Bedford School. Bedford School has produced many of the current Northamptonshire squad (via a spell with Bedfordshire), not to mention Alistair Cook.  The Modern School can, though, boast of Monty Panesar as a recent sprig.

Like Bedford itself, the ground is rural from one aspect –

urban from another –

The pavilion is attractive –

the dates on the clock (1566 is the date of establishment) suggesting  it was built in 1922

and there was a Marquee for the blazers to graze in –

The day was also enlivened by the arrival of a slightly alarming man, clearly some sort of local hero, who arrived with a sheaf of press cuttings about the day he’d scored a century against Johnny Wardle, presumably when Wardle was playing for Cambridgeshire.

Queen’s Park in Chesterfield has, I’m pleased to say, altered little since my visit in July of last year.  One difference though is that, as we are now in the School Holidays, the playground just outside the ground behind one of the wickets was full of children, and there was a miniature railway in operation. 

As at Desborough, the club have erected a high net to prevent lofted straight drives from braining some unfortunate infant

Although it wasn’t really that kind of game, a net like this is seen as a challenge by some players, and James Middlebrook almost managed to hit over it a couple of times.

Simply as a game the one at Bedford rather had the edge.  It was the last day of a three day match, and was decided at about half past five, with the result uncertain until the last half hour (Bedfordshire won, I think).  Given fine weather, three days really ought to be enough for a cricket match.

I suppose the four day game does provide better preparation for Test cricket, in the sense that it allows one side to grind out a huge total and then crush the other like a bug.  In this case it was Northamptonshire doing the grinding and crushing, moving from 286-6 to 416-9 dec. to set Derbyshire 493 to win.  Oh for the days of the sporting declaration!

Although Northants’ batting was undeniably impressive, the most entertaining part of the day was when opener Chesney Hughes removed a couple of tail enders with his occasional slow left armers.  Here we see him acknowledging the applause of the crowd –

    

When Northants declared, a very charming man, who must have been at least seventy, tapped me on the shoulder and asked why the announcer had said that Derbyshire needed 493 when Northants had only scored 416.  When I told him that the score on the board was only the score in the second innings, he thanked me for the explanation and said that it was his first time at the cricket.

Good to see Festival Cricket attracting a whole new audience!