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.

 

Horse Stops Play At Lubenham

There seems to be something of a fashion at the moment for animals to invade sporting arenas.  A few days ago several observers reported that there was an unexpected shirehorse in the penalty area at Steel Park, home of Corby Town F.C.. During what little I saw of the national T20 Finals Day on TV there appeared to be a mass pitch invasion by an astonishing rabble of squirrels, sharks, dragons and God knows what else.  Then on Sunday, when I happened to be watching the finals of a village T20 competition in the grounds of Thorpe Lubenham Hall, I witnessed a pitch intrusion (I’m reluctant to say invasion, as the animal had as much right to be there as anyone) by what I took to be a stallion belonging to Sir George, the Hall’s owner. A fine looking animal, to my untrained eye.

At first the players reacted as most cricketers would, by adopting the double teapot position and the fielding side insisting the Umpires call “dead ball” (the batsmen had run a couple while they were distracted).  Various tentative efforts were made to steer the horse in the direction of the exit, until a player from the batting side (said to have experience of horses) was located.  He persuaded it to leave, with a little help (or hindrance) from a yappy Jack Russell. Presumably, in line with ECB regulations, it will in future be excluded from all English cricket grounds for life.

Horse at Lubenham 1

Horse at Lubenham 2

Horse at Lubenham 3

Horse at Lubenham 4

 

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It did occur to me that, to raise the tone a little, this animal might be introduced on to the pitch during the next national T20 Finals Day in place of all those sharks, dragons and squirrels.  Or perhaps, as suggested by Jonathan Calder of Liberal England (see Leicestershire Life to your right), a couple of the TMS team in a pantomime horse costume?  If I’d had the presence of mind on Sunday I might have tackled the beast to the ground myself and tried to remove its head, just to make sure it didn’t have Michael Vaughan inside it.  With fatal results for one of us, no doubt.

 

Harmony At Grace Road : A Visit From An Indian XVIII

Leicestershire v India, Grace Road, 28 June 2014

Leicestershire 2nd XI v Worcestershire 2nd XI, Grace Road, 1st July 2014

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As a change from games overshadowed by the landscape or the elements, here is one overshadowed by the crowd. There was a crowd worthy of the name, for one thing, about three-quarters capacity, I’d say, enough to create an, as they say, vibrant atmosphere, but not so full that I had to remain rooted to my allocated seat and unable to circulate, and Duncan Fletcher’s insistence on making the game into 18 of India against 14 of Leicestershire had effectively reduced it to an exhibition match.

In the past, I’ve had mixed experiences with representative and tourist games at Grace Road.  The game against Australia in 2005 was a bilious, lager-soused affair, much of the bile being secreted by “England fans”, scenting an early taste of Australian blood.  A game against Pakistan (though there was less lager involved) was similarly fractious.  As I reported last year, a visit from the England Lions involved such an army of ECB chino-clad functionaries with lanyards round their necks, security men with walkie-talkies, and sundry camp followers commandeering the ground that those few of the Leicestershire faithful who’d turned up felt we being evicted from our home ground by our own national team.

It has to be said that many of the regulars were notable by their absence against India : some resented having to pay an entrance fee on top of their membership, some didn’t want to watch an exhibition match, some simply preferred (it being a Saturday) to watch their clubs and some (including some of those who did turn up) objected to being excluded from the inner sanctum of the Charles Palmer Suite to make way for what appeared to be the Great and Good of the local Indian community, who also had a chance to meet the players.  They might, too, have objected to the Indians being allowed to use the home changing rooms.

I have to say that the Indian presence felt less obtrusive than that of the ECB last year.  The stewarding was fairly relaxed, the Indians seem to travel comparatively light in terms of support staff and, if I’d felt so inclined, I would have been close enough to have offered M.S. Dhoni* (after all, one of world’s most famous sportsmen) a high five (though I managed to restrain myself).

 

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And, given the demand, (Dhoni is in the middle of this lot somewhere) I thought the Indians made a reasonable effort to make themselves available to their own supporters.

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Having said that, although the crowd gave the impression of being mostly “India supporters” it was noticeable that a substantial proportion of them appeared to be supporting both sides at once (as, indeed, why wouldn’t they, given that they mostly live in Leicestershire and, in many cases, have grown up playing for and watching Leicestershire clubs?).  Partly for that reason I can rarely remember feeling part of such a harmonious crowd at a large sporting event.

Inevitably, play was interrupted for a couple of hours by rain and it was good to see that the Indian community have adapted so well to the English custom of not allowing a bit of rain to spoil a Good Day Out.  I have written before that any English event held in the Summer aspires to the condition of a Village Fete and all the old faithfuls were available here: the lads getting pissed at the beer tent, face painting,  temporary tattoos (a luminous Virat Kohli was doing well).  Trays of chips doused in tomato sauce were selling like hot cakes and we were treated to displays of dancing by local youth.  The juniors gave us “We are India” to the tune of the Gap Band’s “Upside Your Head”

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and the seniors what appeared to be a fusion of classical dance with the faintest hint of twerking.

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Shades of my Blackpool and my Seaside Special of long ago.  And if you couldn’t get to have your picture taken with M.S. Dhoni there was always Kali “the Destroyer” Fox.

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On the field, there was a selection box of rusty Indian fast bowlers on view.  As none of them bowled for very long the best I can do is to report that P. Singh is enormous (and could have a career in films playing giant bodyguards and warriors) but largely harmless, as is Ishant Sharma, whereas B. Kumar and (particularly) Mohammed Shami looked more threatening.  None of them posed too many problems for Angus Robson and Greg Smith and it was a pity that their centuries (both “retired out” at tea) don’t have first class status.

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Whether Angus’s big brother et al. will find it as easy to score off this fairly moderate bowling remains to be seen, though, if not, it does suggest that there is something about playing for England that makes batsmen lower rather than raise their games.

Angus Robson was back at Grace Road on Tuesday, in front of a much smaller crowd (consisting, in fact, of the members who had been absent on Saturday). Playing for Tooze against Worcestershire 2nd XI, he was bowled first ball.  As I’ve suggested before, the gradient between the game’s pinnacle and its lower slopes is not, perhaps, as steep as is generally supposed.

Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang ...

Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang …

* I think. Hard to recognise without his sunglasses.

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:

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

 

Time’s Whirligig At The Ivanhoe : My May In Cricket

Not a very memorable May.  Too much mizzle-dodging, a washout at Trent Bridge and a washed-out Bank Holiday T20 double-header at Fairfield Road haven’t helped.  I have seen two days of Hampshire batting at Grace Road (a game we lost thanks to the first dramatic collapse of the season), an imperious innings from James Taylor against Durham at Trent Bridge and Northants running through a T20-hungover Yorkshire side at Wantage Road.  I can confirm that James Vince looks a useful batsman in good nick, but then, as this is the time of year when, England being dormant, a larger portion of the iceberg of English cricket is visible above the water than usual, you will have been able to read all about that in a mainstream media outlet of your choice.  The blogger feels a little superfluous.

But then memory is a curious thing and one match has stuck in my mind, a one-day 2nd XI affair between Leicestershire and Notts at Leicester Ivanhoe.  Ivanhoe are one of the oldest extant clubs in the County, formed in 1873, though they only moved to their present ground in 1953.  The name is presumably the result of late-flowering Scott-worship and their current ground occupies land that was once part of the long-gone Leicester Forest (they share a complex of grounds with the Rugby club of the same name).

As I say, the forest is long gone, along with its attendant knights, but its spirit lingers on in the lines of vast conifers that flank the ground.

Ivanhoe 1

In a strong wind they rustle and shimmy distractingly like a can-can dancer’s drawers and, in any conditions, seem to reduce the players to tiny, Subbuteo-scale, proportions (even the self-described “big goober” Luke Fletcher).

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Fletcher was one of a number of those playing in this game who have flitted in and out of this blog in the five years of its existence, in different circumstances, like characters in some roman fleuve.  Fletcher first appeared at a Seconds game at Kibworth that was interrupted by the harvest in a neighbouring field, looking like “a Polish builder who had wandered in and asked if could have a go at bowling”.  He later turns up frustrating Middlesex at Trent Bridge by “poking around like Peter Roebuck“.  Coach Newell advises him he could be the answer to Nottinghamshire’s bowling problems if he could lay off the ale.  And now here he is back in this just-submerged proportion of the cricketing iceberg, alongside other long-term denizens of this world such as Ollie Freckingham and Tom Wells.

Freckingham and Wells first appear as the fastest pair of bowlers in the Leicestershire League, playing in the County Cup Final for Loughborough against Harborough.  Freckingham rises to the surface, is for some time the leading wicket-taker in Division 2 of the Championship and is elected Player of the Year for 2013.  Now he too is back in this pleasant demi-limbo between club cricket and the bright floodlit uplands of the professional game.  There are others here too: Alex Wyatt, who has been not quite established in the First XI since he made his debut in 2009, Paul Franks (the last Young Player of the Year not to appear for England), Dan Redfern, who looked set to star for Leicestershire this season but finds he can’t get back into the side after a finger injury, Billy Root (brother of the more famous Joe), Sam Kelsall (waiting to fill the gap created by James Taylor if he ever gets into the England side) and more.  They all have their stories.      

And then there are those who are no longer here.  On the day that this match took place two long-time residents, Harry Gurney and Rob Taylor, were appearing against each other for England and Scotland respectively.  (The last time I saw Gurney was at another 2nds match at Nottingham’s Lady Bay ground last year, in opposition to, as it happens, and in conversation with,Freckingham.)  Of course there are reasons why one player rises to the surface and another submerges but some of these players might be forgiven, as they strain for pace in the shadow of the mighty conifers, for feeling that their fates have less to do with reason than the caprices of some flighty forest-spirit.  Modern cricketers may be adept at paying lip service to the new philosophies (e.g. small margins) but in their hearts they know better than not to placate the old religion of Mother Cricket.

Part of this loss of faith in the men of reason may be down to the sudden re-appearance of Mitchell Johnson, which seems to have caused as much panic as the reappearance of Halley’s comet did in 1066.  Gurney and Taylor are both beneficiaries of the cry “Find a left-armer, any left-armer really (even Tymal Mills)!” and another beneficiary (if that’s the word) of the destruction of Graeme Swann and the consequent cry “Find a spinner, for God’s sake find a spinner!” was playing at the Ivanhoe.  Rob Sayer, who plays his club cricket for Peterborough, and has hardly played for Leicester 2nds, took some wickets for England Under-19s over the Winter and consequently featured in more than one “Ones to watch” feature in the Spring.  He may well go on to great things, but, on this showing, he is no better a bowler than another spin-bowling Rob who also took some wickets for the England Under-19s, couldn’t get a contract with Leicestershire and is now back performing very effectively for Market Harborough.

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(As to who or what the Presiding Spirit behind all this is, who knows? Well, I think the Last Gnomes know.  They know everything else … where to get off the bus so that you don’t have to retrace your steps for half an hour, where to get a cob on a Bank Holiday, where the only bench on the ground is, where to find a scorecard when they aren’t on sale, exactly what went on at Sileby that time.  But then, of course, they have long ago retreated back to what’s left of the forest, and they aren’t telling …) 

Snow Scenes of Leicestershire : Grace Road And The Oxendon Tunnel

A quick roundup of how the snow is affecting our region.  First, the scene at Grace Road earlier in the day –

Grace Road in the snow

The sharp-eyed among you will have spotted that this is actually a painting (by Nick Turley) not a photograph and is taken from this year’s Christmas card sold in aid of the Friends of Grace Road.

We are lucky at Leicestershire in that foxes might realistically be seen in the outfield at Grace Road (we had problems with them digging it up a couple of years ago).  A prancing horse at Canterbury might be vaguely plausible, but a bear in the outfield at Edgbaston would be straining credulity and a wyvern at Taunton would, frankly, be straying into the realms of fantasy.

On a homelier level, this is the pavilion at South Harborough’s ground (what Whistler, had he been familiar with Little Bowden, might have described as a Symphony in White and Green).

South Harborough Pavilion in the snow

But then snowfall famously has the power to elevate the homeliest scene into the realms of fantasy.  I saw a sign this afternoon saying that the Kelmarsh Tunnel (along the disused railway line to Northampton now known as the Brampton Valley Way) was shut and the Oxendon Tunnel was dangerous because of icicles and sheet ice.  Inevitably, I had to have a look.

Without that information, where are we here? Narnia? Middle Earth?

Kelmarsh Tunnel 1

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Kelmarsh Tunnel 5

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Caroline Kissed Jess Here

For Valentine’s Day, and to continue the intermittent theme of the various ways in which we commemorate our lives, some graffiti on a railway bridge between Little Bowden and Braybrooke – Caroline kissed Jess here 1999. 

I’m not quite sure how she (assuming it was Caroline who wrote it) could have done this.  I sort of picture her hanging off the bridge in one of those contraptions that window cleaners use to clean the windows of skyscrapers, but I suppose it’s more likely that she hung over the edge of the bridge – dodging passing trains – writing upside down, and referring back to a piece of paper as she did so.

However she did it, it must have been a truly memorable kiss to go to these lengths to commemorate it.  It’s quite impressive that it’s managed to last since 1999 – though more impressive still if she’d gone back there in 2009 and still thought it worth the effort.    

Nowadays, I suppose, she would just have updated her Facebook status (In a relationship).  Not the same thing at all, and all too easily reversible.