Golden Hours (A Trick Of The Light) : My July In Cricket

Northants 2nd XI v Sussex 2nd XI, Finedon Dolben CC

Bedfordshire CCC v Cambridgeshire CCC, Bedford Modern School

Leicestershire v Derbyshire, Royal London Cup, Grace Road

Leicestershire 2nd XI v Warwickshire 2nd XI, Grace Road

(all July 2014)

“Sit on the Mound Stand at Lord’s on midsummer morning at noon, and if the sun be ample and you close your eyes for a while you will see a vision of all the cricket fields in England at that very minute; it is a vision of the game’s rich seasonal yield; a vision of green spaces over our land, of flashing bats, of thudding, convulsive bowlers, and men in white alone in the deep or bent low in the slips.”

I have quoted that passage (from “The Summer Game” by Neville Cardus) before.  It describes an experience that he that hath understanding of that vexatious phrase “the Spirit of Cricket” will have had at least once (perhaps as often as once a season, if they’re lucky), even if he (or she) might be shy of admitting it.  English cricketers may, as Bernard Shaw once unintentionally pointed out, be unspiritual people, but cricket does occasionally allow them a glimpse of, if not eternity exactly, a kind of seemingly infinite simultaneity.

Of course it’s not necessary to sit in the Mound Stand at Lord’s on midsummer morning to summon the Spirit of Cricket (she is that not that local or particular a Deity).  If I were to try to summon her deliberately I’d have a couple of pints at lunchtime on a sunny day and sit in the stand on the roof of the Charles Palmer Suite (which usually does the trick).  But at the beginning of the month I was surprised to be surprised by the Spirit in what is, almost literally, my own backyard, the Little Bowden Recreation Ground.

At the end of an overcast day which had turned brilliant to the point of hallucination towards evening I made a slight detour on my way home and chanced upon the time-honoured closing stages of a close encounter (the last man, the last over, the winning run, the handshake, the pub).

Little Bowden Rec July 2014

No doubt it was merely a trick of the light (at close to what photographers call the “golden hour”) but at that moment the two elevens seemed to contain all cricketers everywhere and of all time, stretching back to Hambledon and beyond.

Of course, it is the curse of visionaries (think of Rat in “the Wind in the Willows”, for instance, or even Julian of Norwich) that they cannot convey in words the substance of their visions to those who haven’t shared them, which is why it is generally wiser not to attempt it.  But something of that feeling has remained with me through the month and lent a sense of unity to what are, on the face of it, unrelated happening and sights …

… Nathan Buck attempting to score off a last over bouncer from Mark Footitt …

Young Buck

… some natty duck-egg blue sight screens at Finedon Dolben …

Finedon 1

(the batsman is Samit Patel’s brother Akhil, seen here leaving the pitch looking pained after narrowly missing his century)

Akhil Patel

… a tree in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin, which overlooks the ground at Finedon (and where at lunchtime the incumbent, the popular radio evangelist the Rev. Richard Coles was supervising the raising of the bellows) …

Finedon Churchyard

… a Cambridgeshire player (who I think embodies the Spirit of Amateurism as much as anything) tucking his trousers into what appear to be (Harlequins?) rugby socks …

Bedford 1 (socks)

… the same displaying a broadness of beam in the slips not seen in the professional game since the heyday of Cowdrey, Milburn and Sharpe …

Bedford 3 (slips)

… a World War II bomber that passed low over the field at Bedford in the late afternoon …

Bedford (2) bomber

and even the poor, much abused alleyway that leads to Grace Road …

Grace Rd alleyway

… until, as the month ends, the skies darken and the outfield parches, Barrow Town’s Stan once again hit out boldly in the closing overs …

Stan Fairfield Rd Aug 2014

So, Lo! – do you see? – it all coheres!  Well no, of course, it doesn’t really cohere at all, but sometimes – do you see? – it just seems to for a moment.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s a fine Summer evening, and there might be some cricket still going on somewhere in the vicinity …

(On a more sober note, future England watchers should make a note of the name Sam Hain, who took advantage of the new 50 over format to build a substantial century for Warwicks 2nd XI at Grace Rd. last week.  The new Ian Bell, mark my words, unless he changes his mind and decides he’s Australian again.)

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With The Benefit Of Hindsight … : Looking forward to a new season

A month or so before the season starts, which ought to be a time for cautious optimism.  Here we see our local groundsman optimistically mowing the pitch during a brief spell of sunshine last weekend, before the foul weather returned.

Little Bowden Rec

It is also traditionally a time for cautious pessimism about the future of County Cricket.

Would anyone care to hazard a date for this (from “The Times“)?

County Cricket on Trial

From A Correspondent

The cricket season proper opened quietly on Saturday, and the very fact that several counties are changing their usual programme and starting games on Wednesdays and Saturdays, instead of Mondays and Thursdays, proves that the public are, at last, to be recognised rather than the players.  Whether the experiment makes for the good of the game is a moot point; and whether it will “draw” the apparently reluctant public is another.

This season sees county cricket trembling in the balance, for without popular support it must die.  Cricket is voted dull nowadays because there are not the overwhelming personalities on every county side that spectators have been accustomed to in great matches.

Unfortunately, at the present moment there does not seem to be the same “county spirit” as there used to be.  Perhaps it is owing to the fact that people have to work more strenuously than they had to 20 years ago.  They are still keen to know how the cricket of the day is going, but they do not turn up in numbers, and numbers mean gate-money, and gate-money means everything to a county.

First class cricket is no spectacular game now; nor can it ever be again … “

And so on.  With a few minor tweaks, it could be from any Spring in the last hundred years, but is actually from May 1914.  But, however gloomy “A Correspondent” may have felt about the future of County Cricket at the time of writing, what wouldn’t he have given to have been in a position to write something similar the following year and what a joy it must have been to be able to settle down in the Spring of 1919 to bash out once again his old familiar Jeremiad! (“2 Day Cricket Not the Solution!“)

Having said that, not all Cricket Correspondents allowed the small matter of a World War to interrupt their enjoyment of the game, as this curious photograph demonstrates.  This is the irrepressible E.H.D. Sewell, sometime ghost to W.G., inventor of leg-slip and author of “Rugger : the man’s game“.  The original caption reads “The author – muzzled at last!  A memory of 1916, when we were told to take gas masks (?) to matches.”

"Muzzled at last!" E.H.D. Sewell (1916)

(I have to say that doesn’t look much like a gas mask to me, or at least not a very effective one.  Only goes to show the lengths some people will go to get a game of cricket, I suppose.)

Long A-Growing

On this thoroughly miserable weekend (not helped by waking at 4.00 to the crowing, not of a cockerel, but Glenn McGrath) let us make a nostalgic pilgrimage to the site of the Stump.  Long time readers may be wondering whether it has somehow – hope against hope! – managed to revive, but I’m afraid the answer is that its mortal remains still slumber in the earth and the grass has begun to cover it.

Stump November 2013

I am reminded of the old song …

The trees they do grow high and the leaves they do grow green,
The day is passed and gone, my love, that you and I have seen.
It’s on a cold winter’s night that I must lie alone,
For the bonny boy is young but a-growing.

At the age of sixteen he was a married man,
And at the age of seventeen the father to a son,
And at the age of eighteen his grave it did grow green.
Cruel death had put an end to his growing.

 

Stump Watch : Coda

A resurrection of sorts for Easter.  Not too far away from the remains of The Stump the authorities have planted a sapling horse chestnut.  I wish it well, although the last time they tried this it was swiftly snapped in half by vandals.  I don’t think I shall be reporting regularly on its progress, although it might feature occasionally.

Stump Watch Coda Easter 2013

For anyone curious as to how The Stump might have developed, if left to its own devices, here is a wild horse chestnut of a similar age to the sapling, a short walk along the Brampton Valley Way, as approached from Little Bowden.  At this early stage in its development there are several branches that have the potential to develop into a trunk.  In time, all but one will die away or be destroyed and all the strength of the tree will be concentrated in the surviving branch.

DSCF1720

Stump Watch : The End

I’m afraid this really is The End, my friends.  A week ago the Stump was showing signs of ailing.  Dry rot had set in on one side.  Someone had hacked lumps off it and strewn them all over the Rec.

Stump Watch February 2013

The Stump had, however, survived one previous assassination attempt (in January a year ago) and I was hopeful that this latest setback would prove a mere interruption to its continuing story of resurrection and renascence in the face of adversity.  However, this was the scene that greeted me this morning:

Stump Watch - The End

Well and truly and radically extirpated, I’m afraid, and (as football commentators are prone to saying in less dramatic circumstances)  it’ll take a miracle to come back from this.

When I have gathered my thoughts I shall try to compose some suitable epitaph for the Stump.  For the moment, though, I suppose it’s a good job I didn’t identify with the Stump too closely.

Stump Watch For January 2013 (with a contribution by D.G. Rossetti)

Belatedly, the Stump in January, looking a little like a Christmas pudding with sparklers stuck into it:

Stump Watch January 2013

and, as a bonus, the Stump in context.  It does have an awfully long way to go to regain its former glory, as you will see.

Stump Watch January 2013 2

These scenes may, perhaps, prompt a sigh of regret – “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?”  Or perhaps not.  It is one of those phrases, like “whatever happened to the crispy bacon we used to have before the war?” or “I understand he speaks very highly of you” that I tend to slip into the conversation without really knowing what they mean or where they come from.

“Mais, où sont les neiges …” is actually the refrain of a poem by François Villon – Ballade des dames du temps jadis – that was popularised in England by Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1870 translation as The ballad of dead ladies.  Rossetti couldn’t find an exact English equivalent for “antan“, so he invented his own word “yester-year”.  The neologism caught on and is now, of course, a great favourite of DJs on oldies radio stations.  Here is Rossetti’s poem:

.

Ballad of Dead Ladies

Tell me now in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
Where’s Hipparchia, and where is Thais,
Neither of them the fairer woman?
Where is Echo, beheld of no man,
Only heard on river and mere–
She whose beauty was more than human?–
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Where’s Heloise, the learned nun,
For whose sake Abeillard, I ween,
Lost manhood and put priesthood on?
(From Love he won such dule and teen!)
And where, I pray you, is the Queen
Who willed that Buridan should steer
Sewed in a sack’s mouth down the Seine?–
But where are the snows of yester-year?

White Queen Blanche, like a queen of lilies,
With a voice like any mermaiden–
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,
And Ermengarde the lady of Maine–
And that good Joan whom Englishmen
At Rouen doomed and burned her there–
Mother of God, where are they then?–
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
Except with this for an overword–
But where are the snows of yester-year?

 

On The Town : Late Entries In The Snow Scene Category

Just before it melts, a couple of late entries in the snow scene category.

This is Wilfred Dudeney’s ‘Three Printers’, transformed into three jolly matelots on shore leave and looking for fun.  I think Gene Kelly is the one on the left.

On the town

And this sad modern variant on the traditional lost dog notice.  Lost in snow – White iPod Touch.

Lost in snow

I bet the owner is regretting not having gone for the pink iPod option now.