Old Man, Young Men : Cricket In September (Chiefly In Photographs)

When I first saw that this year’s season was not due to finish until the last week of September I was thinking to myself that this could be heaven or this could be hell.  A glorious Indian summer of pale sunshine and golden leaf-drift, with plenty of scope for sub-Cardusian musing about dying falls, exits and entrances, youth and age, or a complete washout that made me wish I’d saved my annual leave for Christmas.  So far it’s been a little of both, although the scene outside my window as I type does suggest that the season itself is about to be called off for bad light.

We’ve had a little drizzle, the kind that County men come off for but clubmen play on through and which did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the boy in the black trousers who was on as a substitute fielder for Leicester Banks (a serious side in their heyday, featuring Darren Maddy in the not too distant past, not to mention Gary Lineker) against Harborough 2s

Harborough 2 v Leicester Banks

Our sub had clearly been making a close study of his seniors and boasted an impressive repertoire of handclapping, general encouragement (including, I suspect, the Gujurati equivalent of “Serious pace, buddy” and “areas“) and concerted appealing.

The weather held for the Final of the County Cup at Grace Road, and, having watched so many defeats there this season, it made a pleasant change to witness a victory, as Harborough comfortably defeated Lutterworth (Captain Chris Weir here displays the trophy to the wearers of the old baggy maroon)

Weir triumphant

Lutterworth contributed something of a Test Match atmosphere to the game, with a small brigade of the Barmy Army, including a very drunk suicide bomber, his explosive vest packed with Red Bull (who this small boy mistook for a pirate).

Suicide bomber

It’s always a shame to go through a season without at least one visit to Lord’s and I was quite looking forward to seeing the third day of Middlesex against Nottinghamshire, if only to catch up with the sides I’d seen in my first County fixture of the year at Trent Bridge and see where the season had taken them.  In short, Middlesex have had a moderately successful season and Notts a moderately unsuccessful one (they entered this game with a mathematical possibility of relegation).  Luke Fletcher has listened to tough-talking boss Newell’s wake-up call, cut back on the ale and established himself as a useful front-line seamer, Toby Roland-Jones has been injured and has probably now moved out of range of the England selectors’ radar and Tim Murtagh has taken more wickets than anyone else in the Championship without anyone seriously suggesting an England call-up.

Like the young boy from Banks the Old Man continues to play on imperturbably through the murk and drizzle (and, if you look very closely, you can see that he is surrounded by a cloud of small gnats, which would have pleased John Keats)

The Old Man with gnats

Unfortunately, not a single ball was bowled all day, which gave me plenty of time to explore the upper reaches of the Mound Stand and I came away with a useful tip.  If anyone offers you a suspiciously cheap ticket for row 25, seat no. 6 I’d pass, if I were you, unless you happen to be a specialist fielding coach.  The view is really very restricted

Restricted view

Into every life a little rain must fall, I suppose, and I ought to be grateful that this was the first complete washout of the season, in spite of the fact that I’d just paid £16.00 to see as much cricket as someone sitting in row 25, seat 6.  A huge compensation was the opportunity to enjoy a couple of drinks with fellow-blogger Chris Smith of Declaration Game fame and some of his ex-teammates from Turl C.C. who had chosen the day for a reunion.  Do follow Chris’s blog, if you don’t already, by the way, it’s always excellent value and he’s also very generous in spreading the word about other people’s writings – see my blogroll for details or follow him on Twitter at  

There are some players who make themselves known as rumours a long time before they arrive (in the sense of playing first-class cricket) rather like a tornado announcing itself as a faint wisp of smoke on the distant horizon.  Ramprakash was a name I’d heard often before he first played for Middlesex and tall tales of “the little lad at Loughborough” long preceded my first sight of James Taylor in Leicestershire colours.  Too often these wisps of smoke turn out to be elderly Skodas with faulty exhaust pipes rather than tornadoes, but if anyone fancies a very long-term punt on the composition of the England XI in 2023 they might want to make a note of the name Ben “Fishy” Coddington.  Coddington has been playing for Leicestershire Under-14s this season and Those Who Ought To Know seriously rate him (“better than Shiv (Thakor)” being one of the milder recommendations).  Saturday’s game against Syston was the first time I’d seen him in action.

Certainly if I hadn’t known who he was I would never have guessed that he was 13 (or possibly 14).  The context of the game was that Harborough, needing a win (as opposed to a winning draw) to retain a chance of finishing top of the Premier League, had made a decent 230 something in their 45 overs.  Syston had started slowly and had little realistic chance of victory at 4 wickets down, when young Coddington came to the crease.  As you will see, Harborough adopted an attacking field (here we see Coddington on strike with 8 wickets down and about 4 overs to go)

Coddington defiant

The boy not only stood on the burning deck but positively strutted about on it (one thing he does not lack, I’m told, is self-confidence).  Not the least impressive aspect of this, I thought, was that faced with nine fieldsmen in close, he didn’t take the obvious options of blocking or trying to loft the ball over the field, but placed his shots carefully through the gaps between them (and I should point out here that our bowling featured the two ex-County men Innes and White and the talented England U-19 spinner Ben Collins).

I couldn’t tell you precisely how many runs he made, because the scoreboard was undermanned and not displaying individual scores, but it was enough and, having steered his side home, he left the field to some well-deserved applause.

Coddington triumphant

It occurs to me that, if his parents had really wanted to burden him with expectation, they could have named him W. G. Grace Coddington, which would have meant that he would have had to become either a great cricketer or the Creative Director of Vogue, but perhaps Ben was a more sensible choice.

So there you are.  Two top tips in one post.  And two more games to go.

Merciless Strauss Steamrollers Feeble Worms

Leicestershire v Middlesex, Lord’s, County Championship, 30th August 2011

So, back to the Home of Cricket, which we last visited in High Summer.  Today she was clad in her Autumnal garb …

 and we encounter two sides in quite different frames of mind.

Middlesex have the chance to tap-tackle Northamptonshire’s heels as they approach the try line, and were grim-faced and focussed on the task of crushing the lowly Worms.

Leicestershire were, I thought, wearing their metaphorical hats on the sides of their heads, still thinking of what they had got up to at the weekend, and looking forward to the prospect of an unexpected holiday in September.  There are visas and innoculations to be arranged, copies of the Rough Guide to Hyderabad to be bought, and I didn’t have the impression that prising themselves off the foot of the Championship table was uppermost in their minds.

The younger element in the crowd seemed eager to see the great Champions of 20/20 in the flesh.  Whenever Josh Cobb strayed near the boundary rope he was mobbed by youthful autograph hunters (not often the case at Grace Road).

Taylor Minissimus seemed in particularly skittish mood.  I do wonder if it was entirely wise to demonstrate quite so graphically to England skipper Andrew Strauss what he thought of his omission from the one-day squad –

Leicestershire’s other Taylor (Rob) was coming to the match from a slightly different angle, having (as we’ve seen) spent his Saturday moving the covers on and off at Fairfield Road, rather than soaking up the champagne and the adulation of the crowd at Edgbaston. 

On Tuesday, in a dramatic change of scene (though not, I believe, one unknown to him, having spent three years in the XI at Harrow) he found himself bowling to England skipper Andrew Strauss in front of a packed crowd at Lord’s –

with varying degrees of success

He had plenty of time to savour the experience.  At the close of play Middlesex were on 323-1, on their way to a total of 496-2 (Strauss 241*).  

In the second innings, Taylor Minissimus (who had perhaps got the champagne out of his system by then) tried another way to impress Skipper Strauss by scoring 85, and Taylor Major had some compensation for his labour with the ball with a useful 49.

Leicestershire again lost by the respectable margin of 10 wickets (Middlesex 24 points, Worms nul points).

Mind you, however lowly we are, I think we can still afford a more impressive means of team transport than this –

Perhaps, if Middlesex finish atop of Division 2, Strauss will get to drive this on their Victory Parade through the streets of St John’s Wood (though I’m not sure there’ll be room for the whole squad in the back).

Disgusted or Amused? : A Rover’s View of Lord’s

England v Sri Lanka, One-day International, Lord’s, 3rd July 2011

“Well, we shall meet again for the first match in 1945 ; between the Tavern and the Rover’s Stand ; just where that bloke in the green bow-tie said that Hendren was worth any six batsmen from the Oval and then read his newspaper upside down.” – From a letter to R.C. Robertson-Glasgow written in 1944 by a friend serving with the Air Force overseas.

Another one day international?  Well, I’m like meh whatever.  Too many of them, don’t mean anything. Keep the players away from their counties. Except, of course, if someone’s kind enough to offer me a free ticket to one.

It’s a long time since I saw a Test Match (a rather bad-tempered affair against Pakistan in 2002), and I’m fairly sure that I’ve never seen a one-day international before.  What I forget is that there are cricket fans who may only watch one or two live matches a year and these matches do appeal as a Big Day Out.

There are things you notice at the ground that you wouldn’t know from listening to Test Match Special – that the drinks breaks are sponsored by Buxton Spring Water, for instance (which might explain why there are so many of them).

There are things that I imagine you don’t see if you’re watching on Sky -for instance, that the outgoing batsman is trailed to the pavilion by a cameraman, rather like that irritating duck you used to see on Australian TV –

Or this poor man, marooned atop a towering cherry-picker …

You might not realise that when Stuart Broad was spraying himself liberally with an aerosol while fielding on the boundary, it wasn’t because he has a deal to advertise Lynx Body Spray, but because the area around the Tavern and the Rover’s Stand were infested with midges.

The crowd were, understandably, set on enjoying themselves, by hook or by crook.  For the first, I’d say, hour and a quarter, there was an air of keen anticipation.  Cook and Kieswetter opened, and Kieswetter played a stroke, to wild applause.  Then he got out.  Trott emerged.  I thought Cook and Trott were rather like two women who’ve turned up to a party in the same outfit.  One of them would have to stay a while for the sake of politeness, then make their excuses and leave.  It was Trott.

Enter Pietersen.  Levels of anticipation rose and continued to rise as the sun reached its height and the first rounds of drinks were brought in. He played masterfully and soundly, his attack an impregnable form of defence,  to reach 42 until, with a groan that was audible from the Gents (I can attest to this personally), he felled himself by top edging a sweep to square-leg.

At this point, with Morgan gone too, Bell trying to ‘get ’em in singles (and James Taylor ineligible for selection because he doesn’t play for Warwickshire), it was clear to those in the ground with English sympathies that the pleasure of the day was not going to come from dramatic tension or a swell of patriotic pride. 

Cook completed his usual fine century, the tail twitched a little.  But, as many sages in the crowd presciently observed, the total was never going to be enough on that pitch.

Lunch was officially taken between innings, but, as this was at 2.30, I had the impression that many of the members had begun lunch a little earlier.  The would-be Zuleika Dobsons of the ‘Varsity Match had been replaced in the Harris Garden by men whose complexions matched their ties.  The MCC’s answer to the Barmy Army, an elderly trio, played Dixieland jazz.  There were many faces I half-recognised, heroes from the days of long hair and moustaches, but blurred by time, like a cricketing wax museum in a heat wave.

I don’t often drink at the cricket – the odd pint if I’m in company – but my companion had brought along a bottle of decent wine, and it seemed churlish not to return the favour by buying him a few pints … and as the afternoon wore on, Sri Lanka made their reply, and the heavily lacquered hair of the woman in front of me became a midge mausoleum, I found that the run stealers did appear to be flickering to and fro a bit, as did the fieldsmen, and, indeed, the pavilion.

When I stepped outside during a Buxton Spring Water drinks break, a steward, who I had earlier suspected of being a little officious, kindly pointed out to me that I was about to light the wrong end of my cigarette.  

After ten overs, with the run-rate almost double the rate required, there seemed a real danger that Sri Lanka would finish it off with ten overs to spare.  After twenty overs they seemed to have decided to spin it out to make sure we got our money’s worth.

There are times in games when the players and the crowd occupy the same emotional space, where we feel the frustration of the bowler when an edge goes for four, or his exhilaration at a wicket, and times when the two diverge.  The angrier the English bowlers became, the more they strained every sinew to take a wicket, the more preoccupied the crowd were with their own amusements.  As Broad strode angrily back to his mark he must have gazed uncomprehendingly at a sea rippling with Mexican waves.

A Tamil Tiger invaded the pitch, pursued and eventually sat on, by a steward who was better suited to the sitting-on part of the operation than the pursuit. 

The players fumed, the crowd cheered them on.

By the end comedy had taken over the drama completely, as Angelo Matthews batted out a maiden in the 46th over to allow young Chandimal (who had earlier taken a futile battering from Broad) to make his century.

Alastair Cook later commented “You never know, the cricketing gods might look down at that in a bit of disgust” (like rabbits imagining rabbit gods, cricketers imagine cricket gods who talk like themselves).  My feeling is that the cricket gods would have been with the crowd in finding it all gently amusing.  

(In contrast to my blurred, impressionist view, my companion’s 12-year-old nephew, over from Singapore, was keeping the score clearly and precisely in his scorebook.  To him every single for Bell, every wide from Broad was worth recording, and I’m sure that if he looks at his book again in forty years’ time the day will revisit him as vividly at it must have seemed to him on Sunday.)



Gentlemen and Players at Lord’s

Oxford v Cambridge, Lord’s, 26th June 2011

To the modern reader who is too young to have seen the pageant of Lord’s at its best, i.e. in fine weather on Eton v Harrow, and Oxford v Cambridge match days, it is not easy to convey much, if anything, of the aesthetic pleasure which the sight holds for the onlooker who is bred to enjoy nice things.  ‘Varsity afternoons at Lord’s were the right of fragrant and beautifully-gowned women, with their escorts of well-groomed men, each one tire aux quatre epingles.  It was a joy in itself to try to stroll round Lord’s in less than three-quarters of an hour through the packed and happy crowds, no matter very much which side was ‘on top’, at the moment, all chattering and laughing nineteen and more to the dozen, nothing else in the world mattering.  How I hope that world conditions permit a speedier return to such times than any of us deems likely to-day”  – E.H.D. Sewell, writing in 1946.

Well, it wasn’t quite like that on Sunday, but more so than you might think, and much more so than the last time I attended one of these fixtures, about six years ago.  That game (the new-style  one day ‘Varsity match) was played (as was traditional, for the sake of the country parsons) on a weekday, and was watched by a handful.  The weather was dull, as was the cricket. 

I don’t know if it was because it was being played on a Sunday, or that it was the hottest day of the year, or down to some change in the social climate (or perhaps they were still there from the previous day, when – for £17.00 – you could have watched Eton play Harrow) but there were certainly enough “fragrant and beautifully-gowned women” to gladden the heart of old E.H.D. – in fact, I don’t there I’ve ever been to a cricket match before where the women almost outnumbered the men.  What might have puzzled him slightly, as it puzzled me, is that they all appeared to be American, or, if not, Australian or South African.

For part of the game I sat behind a group, the boys wearing OUCC blazers, the girls, apparently, Paris Hilton and her entourage.  An American girl and boy were discussing whether South Kensington would be a good place to buy a house (she thought not, because she wouldn’t want to live in the same street as her mother).  The boy seemed to own houses in New York, London and Paris.  This is not the kind of conversation one often hears at Grace Road.  (Even these children of Croesus, incidentally, couldn’t afford the prices at the Lord’s bar and nipped out to the nearest Tesco for a carry-out).

(I’m not implying that these were typical of the crowd, by the way – there were the usual quota of fat blokes with their shirts off in the cheap seats – but it’s a surprise to find them at a cricket match at all.)

The Lord’s shop is now exploiting its heritage by selling Gentlemen v Players t-shirts (£22.00), and there seemed to be some division on the pitch between the serious Players (the ones who appear for the MCCU sides and, in a couple of cases, have county experience) and the amateurs.  There are some who may not  be seeing their names on a big screen again, after their day in the sun –

and some who surely will.

As in the Lancashire league the pros are expected to both make runs and take wickets, and, at the end of the day, Cambridge’s pros Zafar Ansari and Paul Best must have been looking forward to a decent collection when the bucket came round.  These are the two left arm spinners who we met earlier in the season being set on Kevin Pietersen like a couple of Jack Russells.  Since then Ansari has won the Man of the Match award in his 20/20 debut for Surrey.  Best we met before at Grace Road locking horns with Taylor et al. while playing for Warwickshire.    

Cambridge batted first and seemed to be progressing too slowly against some useful medium pace from Oxford captain Sharma (a 27 year old New Zealander), losing captain Timms and the semi-pro Hughes.  Ansari came in at 3 and restored order, with support from Anand Ashok.  With the base secure he let loose, particularly against Oxford’s pro, the off-spinner Agarwal, and at one point nearly assassinated me –

Best joined him at third wicket down and – making use of their professional skills – exploited their powerplay to the full, to take the score to 264.  Best scored 61 off 30 balls.

With Agarwal falling early, and the gap between the rate scored and the rate required gaping wider by the over, I left, confident that with Ansari yet to bowl, Cambridge’s total was safe.  Oxford were bowled out for 212 in the 48th over, Ansari’s figures 10-2-19-0 (economy rate 1.90).

Oxford’s fielding was quite lamentable, by the way.  A similar occurence in 1930 prompted a letter to The Times, from Mr. W.B. de Winton, which ended –

“As a fag at school, if I misfielded a ball I was put at the wicket and bowled at with no bat to protect me, and woe betide me if I shirked the ordeal.  A little of this discipline might do good now.” 

Before the days of the mania for Health and Safety, of course, which is rotting the moral fibre of the nation etc.  …(cont. p. 94 of the Daily Telegraph).

A Longing for Lord’s – May 1943, by Charles Morgan

Quick – before the vision fades!

This is by Charles Morgan, an English writer more popular in France than England.

“So many of the toys we want are put away on the topmost shelf until the Germans are tired of their game, and perversely we long for them.  For example, to be at Lord’s, for there nothing changes.  A new stand

or a new scoring board

arises now and then, bowlers cease to bowl trial balls, red bat-handles go out of fashion, but there is always the same freshness in the forenoon,

 the same air of hot endurance between luncheon

and tea,  the same intensification of sound and silence, the lengthening of shadows, the deepening of the green, and, it may be, suddenly an unreal tension exquisitely heightened so that each withdrawal to the pavilion is the death of a warrior and each new entrant a David come to battle …

The nostalgia for cricket seems a kind of madness to those who have it not.  They come late in life, or from foreign parts willing to be instructed in the mysteries, and, being instructed, are still inexpressibly bored: they cannot understand what we see in the game.  The answer is that it is not the game only that we see, but childhood and youth, and peace and quiet in the recollection of enduring things …

A day at Lord’s, with past welling up into the present, puts a bracket round controversy, and gives imagination release.  There are two minds – the mind that keeps its eye on the ball, and the mind that ranges …”

Wikipedia comments that Morgan “was often criticised for excessive seriousness”.  He’d certainly have a hard job getting that published in All Out Cricket.

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.


Joanna Southcott’s box : the truth reveal’d

Last Thursday I happened to be visiting Lord’s cricket ground.  As I was a little early for my appointment I went for a stroll in the churchyard over the road from the Nursery End, and made a discovery that I feel may be of some significance.

In the churchyard, in fact right by the road, is the grave of Joanna Southcott. For anyone unfamiliar with this lady, the brief facts are these.  Southcott was a visionary and prophetess,who believed herself to be the fulfilment of the prophecy in the Book of Revelation concerning a woman clothed with the sun.  In 1814 she announced that she was to give birth (at the age of 64) to Shiloh – or the Messiah.  In fact, she died that year without, apparently, giving birth at all.  Although some of her prophecies were published in her lifetime, others were sealed in a box, with instructions that it should be opened in the presence of 24 Bishops of the Church of England at a time of national crisis.  The whereabouts of the box is a matter of dispute – some maintain that it was opened in 1927 and found to contain a lottery ticket, a lacy nightcap and a horse-pistol.  Others, however, maintain that the authentic box is in the keeping of the Panacea Society, in Bedford, awaiting the consent of 24 Bishops for it to be opened.

I cannot believe that the proximity of Southcott’s grave to Lord’s is a coincidence.

The plain facts are these.  Lord’s was founded on its current site in 1814 – the year that Southcott predicted the coming of the Messiah.  The early years of the MCC are shrouded in mystery, owing to all their records having been destroyed – conveniently, some might say – in a fire in 1825.  I think we do have to ask ourselves whether it is likely that a small private club such as MCC could have exerted such a hold over the world of cricket for so long if there were not some higher power at work. 

My theory is this.  When Southcott predicted the birth of Shiloh she was not referring to a literal birth – she meant the birth of the MCC at Lord’s.  I have consulted a learned authority on historical dialectology who has confirmed that the words MCC – if spoken in the thick Devon accent of the time – might well have been mistaken – by an audience ignorant of their meaning – for the word Messiah.  And when she referred to the coming of the Lord – well it’s obvious.

So what was in the box and where is it?  I think it’s quite clear that it was entrusted to the Committee of the MCC, and is probably kept in the so-called Holy of Holies – the Long Room at Lord’s.  We may surmise that it certainly contained the Laws of Cricket, the MCC Coaching Manual and probably the original edition of Wisden (much earlier than previously thought).

Whether all of its contents have been revealed is hard to say.  We know from the Panacea Society that ” crime and banditry, distress of nations and perplexity will increase until the Bishops open Joanna Southcott’s box“.  For those that have eyes to see, this is plainly a reference to Lalit Modi and the Indian Premier League. 

So this blog says to the current Secretary of the MCC – J.R.T. “Trout” Barclay – come on “Trout” – OPEN THE BOX!


Joanna Southcott, consulting Wisden?

Abu Dhabi Day

This is the time of year when I begin to wish my life away a little, looking forward to the beginning of the cricket season.  Easter too, obviously, but principally the cricket season. The season traditionally begins (more or less) with a fixture at Lord’s between the Champion County (of the previous season) and MCC.  MCC, in this case, used to mean a selection of players who the selectors thought might be in with a shout of playing Test cricket that season.  The selection used to be mulled over in the press for days before the match, with much speculation as to what it might have  to say about what was in the selectors’ minds.    

For the last four or five years I’ve made a point of booking a day off work for the first day of the match – to give myself something to forward to (so that I can drag myself through the last of the dark days, the horrors of the end of the financial year and the appraisal cycle and so on) and it can be quite wonderful – the jollity of the later train, the feeling of life returning to the earth and the warmth of the first watery sunshine of Spring, the smell of the freshly cut grass, the feeling of being with people who are exactly where they want to be and so on (removes small onion from inside pocket).  I’m getting quite choked up just thinking about it.

Sometimes there is even some decent cricket – a few years ago I saw Alistair Cook and Matt Prior (neither of whom I’d really been aware of before) bat all through the first day to put on a double century opening stand.  It’s also quite a good opportunity to get your picture in the papers, as the press always turned up to report on the first day of the season, making reference to handfuls of diehards, anoraks, thermos flasks and thermal underwear.

So this year I checked which day the match was going to take place.  It’s usually about the second week in April.  This year it’s on the 29th March.  And it’s not at Lord’s, it’s in Abu Dhabi.

Derby?  Blimey, that’ll be a bit chilly in March, won’t it?  It’s bad enough in June, and they won’t have the pies sorted out – they never do early season …

No, not Derby – Abu Dhabi.  Abu ******* Dhabi.  One of the United Arab Emirates, I believe, next door to that other home of the modern game Dubai.  They are also going to be using the match to trial the new pink ball.  In fairness, part of the  reason given by MCC for holding the match in Adu Dhabi is that they did not feel that it would be possible to stage a cricket match in England as early as 3rd April, and there is some force in that.

I see, however, that the first matches of the English season (University matches) begin on 3rd April and the first County Championship matches on the 9th.  By the first week in June 9 or 10 (out of 16) CC matches will already have been completed.  By comparison, according to Playfair for 1960 (masquerading, for some reason, that year, as the News Chronicle Cricket Annual), I see that the first match of the season was on 27th April and the last on 10th September.  The reason for this elongation is to make room for that cricketing equivalent of the cane toad, Twenty Twenty, which has now squatted the whole of June and most of July (at which point I’m afraid I’m  retreating to watch league cricket).

Now this could all work well.  We could have a freakishly warm April and a glorious May.  Perhaps, to be frivolous, global warming may have this happy side effect.  But I suspect that the truth of it is that I can look forward to another Spring spent swathed in sweaters, ducking in and out of the Fox Bar and watching the umpires sucking their teeth as they inspect the pitch.  Which, now I think of it, is more of less where this blog came in.

Binge-drinking at Lord’s

All first-class cricket grounds these days have a sign outside saying “Importation of alcohol strictly forbidden”. The only exception, I believe, is Lord’s itself, the MCC having obtained some kind of Special Dispensation.  The consumption of alcohol, on the other hand, is positively encouraged, not least by the numerous posters advertising Marston’s – official beer suppliers to the England side.  It’s just that it has to be bought from the various bars in the grounds, so maximising revenue.

My feeling has always been that, although watching cricket and drinking oneself insensible are both worthwhile activities, they don’t mix very well.  Others, clearly, take a different view, and, indeed, many spectators at test matches seem to regard the opportunity to go on an eight-hour bender as the primary attraction.

Another who seems to have felt that the great game is best viewed through a mist of alcohol was C.B. Fry, according to the brief biography by his secretary Denzil Batchelor (“the wittiest man in London”).  In a chapter entitled “Magnifico in Olympus” (a title which hints at the tone of the work) DB describes Fry reporting on a day’s cricket (I believe for the Evening Standard).

Apart from “a copy of Herodotus, a box of Henry Clay cigars” Fry takes with him “reserve hampers of hock and chicken sandwiches in case there has been a strike of caterers“.  At twelve he has “the cocktail a visitor from Mars has introduced into the box: a straightforward tumbler filled with equal measures of gin and whisky which as soon as it has been christened a Bamboo-shoot is somehow accepted by the company as innocent to the point of being non-alcoholic.”  

For lunch he has “lobsters with that fine Traminer ’26”, and then, no doubt, it’s back to the Bamboo Shoots.  Martineau reports that “I had a rather bored lady in tow when I ran into Charles.  He thought of a way of mellowing this gelid Diana … he sent a page to the Langham … to fetch a bottle of Liebfraumilch of a vintage which he considered to be worthy of the occasion.  The boy … was given strict instructions to drive back in a taxi which never exceeded fifteen miles an hour … The lady drank the great wine with an air of condescension. She said she had always liked Alsatian wines and could not understand why all her friends affected to despise them.”

And all this before he heading out for an evening’s dancing until three in the morning.

There’s no doubt that, in later life, Fry’s behaviour became increasingly erratic.  He decided, for instance, that he could best contribute to the war effort by offering himself – in his sixties – as a coal miner.  He expresssed some questionable political views.  He ran naked along the sea-front at Brighton.  One can’t help wondering if his alcoholic intake may have contributed to this in some way.

One cannot help but wonder too whether a bottle of Liebfraumilch would be enough to unfreeze today’s gelid lady – though he wouldn’t have had to send a page out to the Langham for it, the nearest branch of Lidl would do. But perhaps Liebfraumilch was a different drink in those days?


It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk …

The silliest place I’ve ever been told to stop smoking?  I think it has to be here –


(Any sign here of a “semi-enclosed space” – I think not.)

To get the full picture you have to bear in mind that this was on the Friday afternoon of one of Middlesex’s County Championship fixtures, so you have to imagine 99% of the crowd in the picture deleted.  There was a high wind blowing.  Half of the seats had no smoking signs on them and half – the ones to the right of what looks (from some angles) like a modernist sculptural depiction of poor Cherie Blair,  did not.  Being a law-abiding citizen, I went and sat in one of what I thought were the smoking seats – not within 100 feet of anyone else and any noxious fumes being whipped away into the air above St. John’s Wood – and still a very courteous young fellow trotted over and told me that (I’m sorry, Sir) smoking was not permitted in that stand.

At Grace Road, of course, you can smoke anywhere  you like.

Now I’m really not some swivel-eyed ultra-libertarian loon who demands the right to spark up in maternity wards and petrol stations, but I have to say this merits the comment –