Incidents at Wantage Road

Northamptonshire v Gloucestershire, Wantage Road, County Championship (Day 1), 16th August



Choices, choices!  My choice on Monday was whether to travel North to watch Notts v Warwickshire at Trent Bridge or take the X7 to Northampton for the match against Gloucestershire.  When I woke the sky was leaden, the cloud low and there was moisture in the air.  Trent Bridge is splendid  in the sun, but if muzzy Autumnal pathos is in the offing then Wantage Road’s yer man, so I chose the shorter trip.

A similar choice must have faced Andrew Hall, the Northants captain, when he won the toss.  At 10.45 it was Autumn, and, presumably glancing down the Gloucester team sheet (Lewis! Kirby!), he decided to offer the opposition the first use of the wicket.

By 11.15, with one wicket down only, it was mid-Summer again – a smattering of high fluffy lambswool clouds against a ceiling of azure blue and a few tentative shirts being doffed.  The ice-cream van rolled up at 11.30 with every prospect of doing good business, and, as far as incidents went for the day, that was it.         

Or rather one  long drawn out incident – a second wicket stand between Porterfield, the Irish international opener and 19-year old Chris Dent (a name to bear in mind for future reference, I think).  Porterfield began quickly, revelling in the fortuitous sunshine and almost reaching his century before lunch.  Dent was initially cautious and correct, with the air of a man who’d made a ninety the other week and wanted to see it through this time.

On and on they sailed, untroubled and serene, past the century partnership, then past their double century, on into the long afternoon, as all round the ground Playfairs were consulted to see if a record was on the cards.  Now, as you might expect, seven out of Gloucester’s record wicket partnerships involve Grace, Hammond or Jessop, but an exception is that for the second wicket – 256 between one C.T.M. Pugh and Tom Graveney at Chesterfield in 1960.      

The record was in sight as tea approached, but at the appointed hour (3.40), young Dent was on 92.  I think they must have offered him another over to complete his century before tea and – I suppose – not wishing to be rude, he came skipping down the wicket, aimed a great heave over the pavilion, missed and was bowled.

The minute I’d left, of course (about 4.45) all hell broke loose.  Gloucester collapsed from 242-2 to 302 all out and Northants lost two wickets for good measure.

 Through the long day there were, of course, distractions.  Since the last time I was at the ground floodlights have been installed.  The ones at Lord’s, as I was reporting the other day, appear in keeping with the ground, perhaps because they seem to be  in scale with the height of the other buildings, subtle lighting installed the better to display Old Masters.  The ones at Northampton loom vastly over the ground, like giant fly swats –


or disposable razors (with a blob of shaving cream) –

And then, of course, there’s Christmas to think about.  Uniquely, I think, the County Ground at Northampton has a sort of moving display screen (of the sort they used to have at Picadilly Circus) on the shed where they keep the covers and rollers that is extraordinarily distracting if you happen to be sitting opposite it.  On Monday it was advertising the attractions for Christmas 2010 – Abba Gold on the 23rd December, and – of all things – a School Disco, on the 19th (£37.00, if you’re interested).

Given the average age of the Northamptonshire membership, the thought of them retrieving their old school uniforms from the nearest museum and shaking a leg to the sounds of what? – Freddie and the Dreamers? – Bill Haley? – Al Bowlly? – strikes me as frankly macabre.  But I shall be there myself soon enough.       

And in case anyone felt inspired to buy an early Christmas present, the Supporters’ Club shop was offering an attractive selection of novelty tea pots for sale –

 Sometimes I think all County Cricket aspires to the condition of a village fete. 

Weightless magnificence : Foxes run riot in St John’s Wood

Leicestershire v Middlesex, Lord’s, County Championship, 9th August

To Lord’s on Monday.  I had been torn between Chesterfield (where Northants were playing Derbyshire) and Lord’s (where Leicestershire were playing Middlesex), but with one eye on the weather forecast, and mindful of the fact that I haven’t been to Lord’s this season nor last, I chose (against most  instincts) to head South.

I’m glad I did.  The Spirit of Cricket – elusive ghost! – may be found in the quiet places, but sometimes she is hidden in plain view, in the place you most expect her.

Lord’s is – as every tea towel, t-shirt and pen in the gift shop will tell you – the Home of Cricket, but sometimes, when I’ve visited, Cricket has not been at home – or not at home to me.  When I lived in London I often used to slip away at lunchtime on a Friday to catch an afternoon of a county match, and on a dull day, or if the game had reached a point where it seemed inconsequential what happened next, the shuttered bars and roped-off stands seemed to say that Cricket was saving herself for a grander occasion, a more opulent crowd.          

On Monday though, and I don’t know why – the bright white light we should have had for cricket back  in flaming June?  the joy of being not underground on Monday morning, but in the light and breeze? – the whole thing felt as grand as any Test I’ve been to there, though the sheer grandeur of the place does tend to make those of us in the cheap seats feel like a troop of monkeys overrunning the Parthenon.

Lord’s may be the Home of Cricket, but it’s also the home of Middlesex, though I always feel that they are reluctantly tolerated lodgers there – poor relations – and never quite at home in the way that other counties are at their home grounds.  I always used to try to catch the Southgate festival, which seemed to suit them better, or at least be more expressive of a county rather than North London, or the MCC in disguise, or the Establishment

You always know that you are close to Lord’s when a county match is on by the blazers on the tube ( the navy blue double-breasted jobs, with brass buttons, worn with grey slacks and the discreet Middlesex tie), worn by slightly florid men, not long retired from business, you’d say, changing at Baker Street from their homes in – where? – Pinner? Rickmansworth? (those faraway place with strange-sounding names).            

And, on the pitch, Middlesex – poor Straussless, Morganless, Finnlesss Middlesex – were no match for the Leicestershire attack – or more precisely Hoggard, who must be able to feel the gravitational pull of the Lord’s slope in his dreams.  Middlesex 161-9 (Hoggard 6-63), then a what-the-heck  flurry of runs from Murtagh and the long-eared, fluffy-tailed Pedro Collins to push back tea time and lift them past 200 and to a consoling  bonus point.

As I reluctantly took my leave, a last look back  – the first over after tea – Boyce (the soul of correctitude) and Smith (straining at the leash) walking out to open as so many have before them, the first long shadows of Autumn just visible, creeping out from under the pavilion.

And always something new at Lord’s, so what is this? The Angel of the South? Christ the Redeemer?  The Spirit of Cricket?  No, the new floodlights.

and their base – (I suppose this is the true spirit of Lord’s) –  in a flower bed:


Postscript (Thursday evening): Foxes foiled (or saved?) by rain. 

Leicestershire eventually made 282 (much of day 2 washed out), Middlesex replied with 255, leaving Leicestershire to make 192 at lunch on the fourth day, with the incentive of promotion there to make a go of it.  139 for 5 when the rain set in again.

Taylor played both of his typical innings – an unbeaten century in the first innings and out LBW for nought in the second.