A Willow At Radlett, A Spaniel At Hove : My August In Cricket Part One

Middlesex 2nd XI v Hampshire 2nd XI, Radlett, 5th August 2014

Sussex 2nd XI v Gloucs 2nd XI, Hove, 12th August 2014

Radlett Aug 2014

August.  From one point of view, when the season reaches its climax (or a series of climaxes).  We’ve had the climax of the Test series, the knock-out stages of the T20 climaxing at Edgbaston and, for lovers of the traditional one-day form of the game, the Royal London 50 over competition, which is, as I write, building to its climax at Lord’s in September.  As the County Championship has been pretty much in suspension since July, my August has, since my moment of revelation on the Rec, been a bit of an anti-climax, though not without its own subtle jouissances.

I’ve mostly been watching 2nd XI cricket, which is a funny old beast.  Leicestershire take it seriously and usually field a side which is barely distinguishable from their 1st XI.  As a result, we have already won the T20 Cup and are in the Finals of the 50 over and 3-day competitions.  Other counties mostly use it to give players who are out of nick or who aren’t used in one-day cricket a chance to get back into and keep in form, or to have a look at triallists and Academy players.  You might occasionally spot an interesting new talent (such as Sam Hain the other week) or you might, as I did in these two matches, see some competent professionals such as Sean Terry, Joe Gatting and young Tavare (all second generation cricketers) making some untroubled runs against some occasionally ropy bowling.

I don’t think it adds to the would-be 1st teamers’ enjoyment that many of these games are played at club grounds (though it’s a part of the enjoyment for me).  It must seem a bit infra dig for them to have to go back to searching for lost balls in the hedge (as here at Radlett), when you are more used to the satisfying bonk of ball on boundary board at the County Ground.

Lost ball

Lost ball 2

Radlett (as regular readers will know) is a ground that is of particular significance to me ; I pass it every day on the train in and out of work.  When it vanishes into the gloom at the end of October I know Winter is here and when it first reappears in the early morning mists at the end of February my thoughts begin to turn to the hope of a new Season.  In truth it is a pleasant enough ground, in the Home Counties style, though what I’m not aware of when I speed past on the train, is, of course, the noise from the trains speeding past and, less obviously, that it is underneath what I take to be a flight path from Luton Airport to London for light aircraft and helicopters.  At times there were so many of them overhead it was like watching cricket in a scene from Apocalypse Now.

From my train window Radlett is at its best in Autumn (a willow at mid-wicket provides some wonderful effects when losing its colour)

Radlett August 2014

and the first signs were there that it is gearing itself for a spectacular display this year.

Autumn leaves at Radlett

Which will be some consolation, as I’m plunged into darkness once again.

A ground, by contrast, I’d expect to be at its best in August is Hove (or to give it its official title TheBrightonandHoveJob.com County Ground).  Good old Sussex-by-the-sea, a cavalcade of raffish manifestations of the amateur spirit – Fry, Ranji, Gilligan, Dexter, Snow, Imran – all of that and all of them.  And, to give it its due, that spirit is still sensibly lingering somewhere around the ground, but buried pretty deep beneath the spirit of commerce.

As Google will tell you, the ground isn’t so much a cricket ground as a multi-use complex, so complex that it requires a forest of signage to direct you if you’ve come there to want to watch a game of cricket, as opposed to patronising the Italian restaurant or visiting one of the retail outlets or small business units it also houses.

 

 

Hove

Of the main buildings, the neo-Edwardian glamour of the Spen Cama Pavilion (Cama was a mysterious snuff-sniffing Anglo-Indian barrister and property speculator who left the club a huge legacy) is still strong enough to shine through all the advertising hoardings

Spen Cama Hove

the moderne players’ pavilion just about makes it through too (“Never hurt – never fall out” is not, incidentally, some kind of team-building advice, but the slogan of the club’s “official earphone suppliers”)

Hove pavilion

but the charm of the poor old scoreboard and clocktower has sunk completely beneath the gaudy pixels

 

Hove scoreboard

and even C.B. Fry now comes sponsored by Parafix Tapes and Conversions Ltd.

C.B. Fry

In fact, so packed is every nook and cranny of the ground with money-making wheezes that it wouldn’t be too surprising (and quite in keeping with the traditions of the resort) to find they’d set up some sort of bijou brothel round the back of the scoreboard.

But who am I to mock?  Sussex is, as I’m sure they’d rightfully point out, in many ways a model for how a small county can thrive.  They are in Division One (and have been for some years), we are not and not likely to be for the foreseeable future.  They have trophies in recent memory; we have none (except for the T20).  So I suppose I’ll have to hold my nose and look forward to visiting the Pukka Pies Arena and sitting in the George Geary (sponsored by Airfix, Netflix or Durex) Stand.

(One feature of the ground I did warm to was the dog (a spaniel?) who helped the groundstaff when they were trying to clear up after the rain.  I wonder who his sponsor is?)

 

Dog on pitch

 

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Fun Days At Grace Road

Leicestershire v Gloucestershire, Grace Road : County Championship, 1st May & YB40 4th May 2013

It’s Glo’ster coming North, the irresistible, The Shire of the Graces, long ago!

That was a very long time ago, of course.  Gloucestershire are now the Shire of the Gidmans (Alex and Will) and not very much else and ought to have been eminently resistible in this double-header between two of, as they say, the less fancied counties in Division 2.

If you were looking to identify the difference between a Division 1 and a Division 2 side, depth in bowling, particularly seam bowling, would be near the top of the list.  Any Second Division county with a decent strike bowler is now likely to find him being lured away by a more monied rival, as has happened this year with Jack Brooks and James Harris (who moved from Northants and Glamorgan to Yorkshire and Middlesex respectively).

Gloucestershire have been comprehensively asset-stripped in this department.  A couple of years ago they could boast a seam attack of Kirby and Hussain (taken by neighbours Somerset) and Jon Lewis (added to Surrey’s existing portfolio of international pacemen).  Now their attack consists of four samey seamers and a spinner who seems to be taking the expression ‘pie-chucker’ a bit too literally (apologies for the blurred photograph, but I think you’ll see what I mean).

Pie-chucker

With both of Leicestershire’s obvious strike bowlers – Hoggard and Buck – out injured (already) the plan seemed to be to prepare a dry track, play two spinners, bat first and spin them out on Day Four.  Which worked out fine until Day Four when Gloucestershire made 191 to win for the loss of a single wicket.

The first day, when I was there, confirmed the impression that we have a fragile top order with a more solid middle, featuring a converted opener at no. 6 and our best batsman at no. 7.  After 21 overs we were 51-5, before Boyce (55) and Thakor (75) dug in and dug us out of a hole.  By the Saturday, however, when the same sides met again in a 40 over match it seemed we had an explosive top order and a too-solid middle order.

Playing a 40-over match immediately after a 4-day one recalls the days when a John Player League game would be inserted into the middle of a Championship match, giving one side the chance to take revenge for a defeat in the other. The match was effectively over as a contest by the end of the first Power Play, and certainly decided by the time Leicester were 190 for no wicket in the 26th over.  Openers O’Brien and Cobb, who between them had made 61 in the 4-day game, both made centuries.  Gloucestershire seemed disinclined to make a game of it and reduced themselves to 44-5 with some suicidal running, after which they looked as if they wished they could simply concede.

This game was televised on Sky, which may have been why it was being played on a Saturday, and also Family Fun Day, with free tickets available.  Given that it coincided with crucial late season fixtures for both the Tigers and Leicester City, meaning that many of the regulars were absent, this had the odd effect of turning the ground into a Kindergarten.  Although it would be wonderful if some of these tots formed a lasting attachment to the game and to the club, I wonder about the effect on their psyches of having this game as their cricketing primal scene.  Will they grow up thinking that cricket should always be a whirl of big screens, amplified music, face painting and bouncy castles, Leicestershire invincible and Josh Cobb a demigod?  It isn’t always like that, I’m afraid.

Still, a victory is a victory, Worcesteshire (our next opponents) really are struggling and, for the moment, I can only concur with the big screen.

DSCF3108

White – erm – ‘Smashes It’ As Leicestershire End On A High

Leicestershire v Gloucestershire, County Championship, Grace Road, 14th September 2012

Not quite the end – the last match in the Leicestershire League is next Saturday – but my last day at Grace Road for the year.  Typically, I chose to attend on the third, rather than the fourth day, missing what must have been a memorable end to the season.  Set 236 to win, Leicestershire squeaked home by two wickets in the last hour – the winning runs hit by the Bad Boy of Leicestershire cricket, Wayne White, who was awarded his cap (I sometimes forget such things exist) as he left the field.

I picture the twilight sky dark with headgear (cloth caps, panamas and baseball caps alike) flung in the air, the night air resounding to choruses of  ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow‘ and strong ale flowing in the Fox Bar ’til late into the night.  Or possibly on to the Leicester branch of the Platinum Lace lapdancing chain.  Not how I would have chosen it, but autres temps, autres moeurs, I suppose.

But anyway, the third day was not without its rewards.  Leicestershire began the day on 220-5 in their first innings, in reply to Gloucestershire’s 234, with Thakor on 68*.  Unfortunately, the boy wonder could only add another five and they were soon 236-8, the damage being done by the Cape Town born, New Zealand U-19 player James Fuller (who holds an English passport) and Academy product Liam Norwell.  Though he didn’t do any particular damage, they also featured a young off spinner with a puzzling chest-on action, rather like a shot putter, which several of those watching from square leg could be seen trying to imitate.

Perhaps the first of the post-Ajmal generation.

As so often over the years, it was left to original Kolpack oenophile Claude Henderson (now 40)

to rescue the situation from no. 9, with a slightly manic 34.  He began responsibly, with support from Nathan Buck, but once Captain Hoggard joined him at no. 11, he went haywire, batting as if it were the last over of a T20 final and was caught in the deep off a sort of smashed tennis shot, with Leicestershire on 295 (five short of another bonus point).  But I’m sure – after all these years – he knows what he’s doing.

Gloucestershire began their reply with an interesting innings from Australian Ed Cowan, who seemed to be posing for illustrations for a coaching manual, rather than batting.  I particularly enjoyed his demonstration of the (very) forward defensive

and his judicious leave

I look forward to seeing more of him during next the next two years’ apparently interminable Ashes-athon.

Cowan’s masterclass earned him only 16 off 38 balls (with 2 snicked fours).  Perhaps he was disconcerted by Hoggard’s rustic sledging – “chuck him on the compost heap” being one of the more audible.  Gloucestershire consolidated and seemed to be creeping in the direction of an unassailable lead until at 131-2 (and about 3 in the afternoon) the clouds – quite literally – lifted, the ground was suddenly bathed in Mediterranean brilliance and the match was transformed in moments as Wayne White had three batsman caught by ‘keeper Eckersley in the space of a couple of overs, to reduce Gloucestershire to 136-5.

Gloucestershire recovered to finish on 296, almost precisely cancelling out Leicestershire’s first innings, and setting them 236 for victory – which, as I’ve mentioned, they achieved with two wickets and a few overs to spare.

It seems unsatisfactory and odd to end the season with the leaves still green and attached obstinately to the trees, the outfield as lush as a billiard table and Leicestershire finally hitting their stride.  But there we are – it’s been a peculiar season all round, which I hope to summarise in a later post.

A word of sympathy for Gloucestershire, who finished last as a result of their defeat here, with Northants, Leicestershire and Glamorgan (in reverse order) above them in the table.  I overheard a troubling conversation involving the words ‘Thakor’ and ‘Warwickshire’ at the match, but we are not the only side to suffer the depredations of the richer counties.  Harris is leaving Glamorgan (to improve his chances of playing for England by playing for a First Division county) and Jack Brooks – alas! – has also put himself up for auction.

Gloucestershire too have recently lost their entire seam attack – Hussain and Kirby (neither, admittedly, pure men of Glarster) to Somerset and Jon Lewis added to Surrey’s collection of fast bowlers (a bit like someone who already owns a couple of Bentleys, a Ferrari and a BMW buying a vintage MG to keep in the garage).  No doubt if Fuller and Norwell fulfil their promise, they too will be added to someone’s shopping list.

Derbyshire’s example is encouraging, but I fear we four counties (plus Worcestershire) are all going to be seeing a lot of each other over the next few years.

Still, I can think of far worse things to do with my Summers and – with one last backward look  –

I look forward – God willing – to next year.

(If I’d accepted WordPress’s spelling corrections, incidentally, I wouldn’t be heading back to Grace Road next year.  I would also have been removed from the internet and been sued for libel because I would just have accused Claude Henderson of being a ‘pedophile’.  ‘Oenophile’, WordPress – a wine connoisseur.  Ah, the perils of the Internet age!)

Freak Declarations In The Silly Season

Leicestershire v Gloucestershire, CB40, Grace Road, Monday 27th August 2012

Leicestershire v Kent, LVCC, Grace Road, Friday 31st August 2012

“The M.C.C. have reminded county cricket clubs of the communication issued in April 1932 which pointed out that the ‘freak declaration’ was not in the interests of the game, or in the interests of the county championships. It is clear that the Laws of Cricket do not provide for collaboration of this kind, and to accept it as justifiable in May and June would equally justify it in August at a time when the immediate result of the championship is of great public interest.” – M.C.C., July 1946

This season seems to be entering the silly stage.  At a national level there is the grisly Grand Guignol silliness of l’affaire KP ; at Grace Road a sort of what-the-hell, nothing-to-lose, demob-happy giddiness at the end of a season made farcical by rain.

The Foxes are currently the form team in CB40 cricket and saved their best batting performance of the season for the last game.  Everyone in the upper order contributed (Thakor with 52 and Boyce with 51 outstanding) to a total of 264, the only blemish being their failure to bat out the full 40 overs.  It would be good to think they could reproduce this kind of performance at the beginning of the competition next year, when it still matters.

As everyone knew it would (it had been predicted for 5.00 by the BBC) rain set in shortly after the interval and Leicestershire had their third No Result of the season, enough to lift them over Worcestershire into second-to-last in their group.

The most memorable incident of the day was Mike Thornely (not usually that demonstrative a batsman) breaking one of the windows in that part of The Meet known as the Great Learning Centre (perhaps named after the Maoist opera by Cornelius Cardew).  Captain Hoggard happened to be passing shortly afterwards and announced that the cost of the window would be deducted from Thornely’s wages. Given our current financial position, I’m not sure he was joking.

I have seen the theory aired that anxieties about match-fixing would put an end to the practice of Captains conniving to achieve a result in rain-affected matches.  These dark thoughts don’t seem to have reached the happy land of Grace Road.

At the start of Day 4 (days 2 and 3 had been substantially washed out) Leicestershire were 171-3 in reply to Kent’s 350.  Kent have an outside chance of promotion, Leicestershire’s motivation is to keep themselves off the bottom of the table.

A more hard-nosed Captain of Yorkshire origins (Illingworth, for one) would, I think, have chosen to bat through the day to pick up 5 batting points in addition to 3 for the draw.  More sentimentally, this would also have given Matt Boyce, who was in his eighties overnight, the chance of making his hundred.

Boyce made his debut in 2006 and has held on to his place as an obdurate opener – in spite of a career average of 27.55 – with the aid of some first-class fielding, all round good eggery and (it used to be said) Captaincy potential.  This season he has moved down the order, looked a great deal happier and begun to achieve some more consistency.

Having just turned 27, he ought to be coming into his prime, but is out of contract at the end of the season and I’ve seen no announcement that he’s getting another one (this being the down side of Leicestershire’s otherwise admirable youth policy).

He didn’t look very pleased when, after one ball, Hoggard declared.  (Why they bowled this one ball – other than to waste 10 minutes – I don’t know).  He also had a reluctant part to play in the ensuing farcical morning. The arrangement, as far as I could see, was that Kent would set Leicestershire roughly 300 by lunch, which was achieved by a mixture of proper bowlers bowling properly, proper bowlers bowling half-jokingly (Wayne White managed to dismiss Rob Key with an offbreak) and bursts of outright comedy bowling.

At one point Leicestershire made to leave the field, as if they had fulfilled their side of the bargain – the Kent batsmen called them back, thinking this would leave Leicestershire too much time.  To waste a bit more time Boyce, who hardly bowls, was instructed to ‘come in off his long run’ to bowl his military trundlers, which were duly blocked.

All of which would have been justifiable  if Leicestershire had come anywhere near the target.  Having lost both openers early, however, the innings turned into a grimly drawn-out rearguard action to save the game.  In spite of some resistance in the middle order from Thakor and Boyce and in the rear from Naik and Hoggard, the struggle was lost shortly after 5.00.

Boyce looked, I thought, even more downcast when he left the pitch for the second time in the day (and I do hope it wasn’t for the last time) –

The other folks who I imagine will have been less than happy with the day’s proceedings were Kent’s promotion rivals Yorkshire – the best side in Division 2 – whose season has been comprehensively wrecked by rain.  Kent are now only 4 points behind them, with two games to play.

I’ve no doubt there is nothing Hoggard would have liked more than to achieve a victory, but I wonder whether – given the circumstances of his departure from Yorkshire – he felt very much inclined to do them a favour by denying Kent the possibility of a win by batting the day out.

I thought of putting some of these points to Hoggard as he left the pitch, but he is a much bigger bloke than he looks on the telly (though perhaps not quite as big as he looks in this photograph).

Airy But Intimate (Northants v Gloucestershire)

Northants v Gloucestershire, County Ground Northampton, County Championship, Friday 25th May 2012

There was a pleasant piece about Wantage Road in The Guardian last week by Mike Selvey http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2012/may/23/northants-county-ground-cricket . He described it as

“an airy but intimate ground, a proper county ground for county cricket without pretensions beyond its status or means”

Which is about right (somehow the floodlights seem to add to the airiness), though I’d say the same is true of Grace Road.  So it was a pity to find Matthew Engel, in the course of an otherwise hear hear-provoking article about outgrounds in The Cricketer writing

‘So they [Leicestershire] stay in unloved Grace Road, mouldering towards oblivion” 

It’s not clear whether it’s the ground or Leicestershire itself  that he thinks is mouldering towards oblivion, but although he is – or was – a habituee of Wantage Road, I wonder when he last set foot in Grace Road.  I can assure him it’s not entirely unloved.

Wantage Road was at its best on Friday, when the real star of the show – making its first appearance of the season – was the sun.

The flags fluttered topically in the breeze

and Gallone’s found their business picking up at last.

There was plenty of slow and steady batting, from Marshall of Gloucestershire, to avoid the follow on, and Peters and Coetzer of Northants, to bat Gloucestershire out of the game, which they succeeded in doing. The sort of third day that’s necessary to set up an interesting fourth.*

I sometimes wish Leicestershire (who are rarely dull, and were losing by an innings at Canterbury at the time) were capable of playing in this unmemorable way.

The only really surprising incident came when play was held up for a few minutes by what sounded like an explosion from the general direction of the scorebox.  The players and umpires looked up at the floodlights, as though worried that one of them was about to topple over on to the pitch.  I worked out that, if this were to happen, the flat end would land on the square.  The incident remains unexplained.

Another possible safety hazard, I’d say, is the huge skip full of grass cuttings to one side of the scoreboard 

A few more days of fierce heat and there’s a definite risk of spontaneous combustion.  Another possibility would be to use it – on the principle of the hay box – for toasting sandwiches and reheating pies. 

In his piece, Selvey reminiscences about

The tiny cobbler’s shop of Albert Whiting  just around the corner from the ground” 

where he used to get his boots made and repaired.

There is a tiny shop near the ground, which looks very much the kind of workshop shoemakers and cobblers used to operate out of, which is now occupied by a man (African, I supect) who makes and repairs false teeth.  I’m sure this says something significant about the Way We Live Now, but I can’t quite think what it is.

*On the Saturday, Northants won in the last over.  Delayed gratification in action.

All Things Are A-Flowing, Sage Heraclitus Says …

Leicestershire v Gloucestershire, County Championship, Grace Road, Friday 20th – 21st May 2011

Northamptonshire v Leicestershire, County Championship, Wantage Road, Wednesday 25th May 2011

“Which counties do you least like visiting?  Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.  Do I really need to explain why?” – Rob Key, in this month’s Cricketer. 

One thing I miss, of course, by my usual, enforced, habit, of watching single days of county cricket is what is often said to be its most attractive feature – the ebb and flow, the fluctuating fortunes.  Admittedly, there is sometimes (as at Trent Bridge the other week) about as much ebb and flow as in the Dead Sea, sometimes a simple torrential rush to an inevitable conclusion.

But last week I was lucky enough to see two days in succession of a Championship match, an ordinary match, no doubt, between two ordinary sides.  After the first two days (a little rain-affected) Gloucestershire had declared on slightly over 500.  Leicestershire’s first choice openers Jefferson and Boyce began on day three with an almost clean slate.

Jefferson (who is in good form) played in his apparently awkward way, as if  playing against children with a child’s bat and giving them a chance through sheer good nature,  Boyce, as always, intelligently and responsibly.  Shortly before lunch, Jefferson went, but – surely – at 195 for no wicket –  the follow-on had been avoided, and the game had been put out of Gloucestershire’s reach?  Other plans needed for Saturday?  Boyce returned to the pavilion at lunchtime to a more informed and appropriate reception than he had received on Sunday.

Soon after lunch, Boyce fell and all the dominoes followed – the locum Kabeer, the frustrating Cobb, the jet-lagged McDonald (perhaps, too, dazzled by the bright lights of Grace Road after the humdrum IPL), and all the rest in short order, to finish on 323 shortly after the beginning of the fourth day.

Jefferson and Boyce returned, experiencing, I imagine, a sense of deja vu and a slight weariness.  By mid-afternoon Leicestershire were 134-5, still 47 behind.  The home crowd braced themselves for another defeat, and, quite possibly, the end of any hope of escaping Division Two.

At this point P.G. Dixey joined Jigar Naik at the wicket.  Dixey is a wicket-keeper, with a century for Durham University to his credit, on trial at Leicester, having been released by Kent.  Thanks to Tom New having broken his toe during a pre-match game of football (an accident waiting to happen, I’d say, given some of the tackles I’ve seen going in) Dixey has been given an extended chance to prove himself.

By five o’clock he was 72 not out, having steered the Foxes’ leaky ship to safety with great aplomb, opening his shoulders to clout a great six into the practice ground.  As I applauded, the man next to me, puffing on his pipe, said, with justifiable pride “That’s my boy you know – his mother’s having kittens”.  To me this may all be part of the passing show, but to Dixey it could mean the difference between a career as a professional cricketer and one as … something else.

At five, they shook hands and agreed on a draw, Dixey returning to the pavilion to great acclaim.

Today I visited Rob Key’s other least favourite place to visit, the County Ground at Northampton.  Having watched three days of cricket in six days, I begin to get a sense of how the season might seem to the players, as a sort of oceanic flow rather than a series of discrete occasions.

On the Tuesday Leicestershire had made 313 (P.G. Dixey lbw. b J.D. Middlebrook 0).  Today it was Northamptonshire’s turn to collapse (70-5, with three catches for P.G. Dixey) and the turn of another young batsman (Alex Wakely, with 98) to take them to near-parity on 311.  And who was the well-groomed woman sitting behind me in the crowd?  Wakely’s mother.

Tomorrow it begins again.  Begin again …

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.