Let Wise Nature Work Her Will

“The days dwindle down to a precious few … September …”

I’m afraid that this has been an undesirably busy month.  “My September in Cricket” will have to wait until October, or possibly even the further into the depths of Winter, when – after all – I shall have little else to write about.  But – just to dispel any impression that this blog has finally turned up its toes and handed in its dinner pail – here, almost exactly six months after the end of the Rugby and football seasons and the beginning of the cricket season, is my last look back at the the cricket:

Fairfield Rd in Autumn 2

Fairfield Rd in Autumn 1

and my first sight of the football:

On the way to football in Autumn

I think the main change since the Spring is that the gravestone in the right foreground, bearing the inscription from Tennyson

Then let wise Nature work her will,

And on my clay her darnels grow,

Come only when the days are still,

And at my head-stone whisper low,

And tell me if the woodbines blow

 has become a little obscured by ivy.

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Hope Springs Eternal : #goodtimes at Grace Road and Fairfield Road

This is tempting fate, and I’ve resisted saying it before, but it has to be said: there has been a good feeling around Grace Road this April.  This ought to go without saying.  Why would there not be a good feeling at any cricket club in April (apart from in the “England camp“, where, presumably, the atmosphere is one of introspection and paranoia, as Cook and Moores – poor sods – “hammer out their values“)?  The slate is still clean, all things are still possible and there is pleasure still to be had in speculating on what might be (if, if only) as opposed to what might have been.  And, of course, at Grace Road, as at any self-respecting ground, the flowerbeds in front of the pavilion are in full bloom.

Grace Road in April

Grace Rd in April 2

Leicestershire’s delayed entry into the Championship (the sad postponement of the Derby game meant that they did not play a competitive game until 20th April) has, I think, helped not only to recall echoes of yesteryear (when it was all but impossible for a side to be out of the running by the end of May) but meant that they have arrived on the scene in at least second gear.  Following on from two friendly matches for the First XI and two (apparently hard-fought) intra-club matches, the Second XI friendly against Derbyshire was used to give most of the prospective First XI another runout.

This blog can, in passing, now claim to span two generations.  In the first post I wrote about cricket one of the few players I mentioned by name was Dominic Cork.  Opening the bowling for Derbyshire 2s in this match was his son, 19-year-old Greg (or Gregory Teodor Gerald, to give him his full name).  He is another left-armer (so, no doubt, someone will soon be proposing him as England’s answer to Mitchell Johnson).  Another left-armer is Rob Taylor, who, in April 2009, was turning out mainly for Harborough and threatening the homeowners of Fairfield Road with the fury of aerial bombardment as an opening batsman.  Since then he has progressed through the 2nds of both Leicestershire and Northants, Loughborough MCCU and Leicestershire’s 1-day side to international recognition with Scotland.  I have always seen him as much as a batsman as a bowler and I was delighted to see him given the chance to prove me right with 164* against Derbyshire (less good news, though, for the homeowners and insurers of Milligan Road).

Taylor and Freckingham

Taylor being given the chance to show what he can do with the bat would be one of the “if onlies” I spoke of earlier.  Others would include Smith and Boyce putting on 100 for the first wicket, Eckersley maintaining last season’s form, Josh Cobb at last finding some way of integrating his 1-day style into his 4-day cricket, Jigar Naik avoiding self-inflicted injuries in the field and Charlie Shreck having some kind of extended Indian Summer, in the style of Richardson or Chapple.  Some enterprising Captaincy would help too.

Almost miraculously, it now seems, all of these hopes were fulfilled in the first home match against Glamorgan.  Leicestershire made 500 in their first innings for the first time that I can remember since that glorious day at the Oval when James Taylor milked Andre Nel and his strutting cronies to the tune of a double hundred.

500

Shreck looked sharper than I remember him appearing at Kent, Naik (I’m told) was threatening on the fourth day and emerged from the match unscathed and Captain Cobb demonstrated some awareness of the need for quick scoring and shrewd declarations if 16 points for a win are to be achieved.

It seems a shame to allow facts to cast a shadow so early in the season, but it is true that we haven’t actually won a match yet.  Bowling the opposition out twice quickly may prove difficult (which is why the art of the strategic declaration assumes such importance).  Ronnie Sarwan (the official Captain) hadn’t made it to England in time for the first two matches. He will, no doubt, contribute runs; let us hope he also provides decisive leadership.  It is also true, alas, that, if what we are seeing is the coming to ripeness of the group of young players whose fortunes I have been following over the last five years, then ripeness may well (as the poet hath it) be all.  The contracts of Cobb, Eckersley and Thakor (amongst others) are up at the end of the Season and it may, unfortunately, be other Counties who reap what we have sewn.  But enough of such dark thoughts.  There is a good feeling at Grace Road for now and that has been rare enough in recent times.

jigar naik

And not only at Grace Road.  Harborough have (in circumstances I am not privy to) lost seven senior players since last season and are facing the new campaign with a team much younger even than Leicestershire, their totem and stalwart Kevin Innes unable to contribute with the ball and unable, the Saturday before last, to put out a 2nd XI.  But necessity (to resuscitate another old cliche) can be the mother of innovation and they took the field against a muscular and much-fancied Syston side last Saturday with one seamer (celebrating his 17th birthday) and four youthful spinners.  Suicidal so early in the season?  Well, not if you have a hand in preparing the wicket and Kevin Innes can still bat.  We won shortly after 7.00, as the sun set behind the Pavilion.

victory at fairfield rd

In August these early evening sunsets and lengthening shadows provoke bitter-sweet thoughts of “dying falls” and ever-encroaching Winter.  In Maytime, though, evenings can (to paraphrase somebody or other) only get lighter and – my word – don’t you bet poor Moores and Cook wish they were young again and heading off for a few barely legal beers in the clubhouse after a famous victory rather than bracing themselves for a shellacking from the Press (not to mention the cats’ chorus on Twitter) after an indifferent display against Scotland?  Still wish Rob “Roy” Taylor the best of luck, though.

 

Will Flowers Be In Place At The Start Of The Season?

Some Big Questions to be answered in Big Cricket when the new season starts.  Should Flower stay – or should he go?  Should KP go – or should he stay?  Should Cook … well you get the idea, and you probably have some answers.

But, noticing today that the cherry blossom is already in bloom around the bowling green

DSCF3914

and catching a glimpse of the scoreless but sunlit scoreboard at Fairfield Road through a gap in the hedge

DSCF3910

some other questions occur to me.

Will the mild Winter mean that the sycamores and silver birches at Grace Road will be in leaf (unusually) for the start of the Season?  Will the daffodils in the beds in front of the Pavilion be in bloom?  Will there be a fine sheen of pollen on the outfield at Fairfield Road?

And I find I care far more about the second set of questions than the first.

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.

Youth And Age At Fairfield Road (with a Poem by Norman Nicholson)

Equinox.  The last of Summer, the first day of Autumn and the last of the cricket season.

It didn’t feel particularly Autumnal at Fairfield Road yesterday, where Harborough beat Kegworth in their last competitive fixture.  There were a few fallen leaves, but the outfield still seems to think it’s June.

Leicestershire U-15 seamer Patrick Sadd (who seems to have grown about six inches since the start of the season) made his 1st XI debut, taking three wickets and – at the other end of the spectrum – Rob White (who has just left Northants) – made another nonchalant century, ending the season, and winning the match, with a huge six into the new pavilion.

I think I’ve derived as much pleasure from watching Harborough this season as I have from watching County Cricket, and considerably more than trying to follow the seamless circus of International Cricket.  So here, partly to celebrate the fact that – just in time for the end of the season – I’ve finally got around to buying a camera that doesn’t have a severe case of floaters, is a brief record of the day’s events.

The batsman takes evasive action against Sadd …

… mid-afternoon – an unsuccessful appeal against White …

… looking at the Big Sky …

… spot the ball (it’s in the pavilion) …

a last handshake …

… White returns triumphant …

… a last look back, as darkness falls.

And here – to mark the end of the season – is a poem by Norman Nicholson.  Millom (an industrial town in Cumbria) was his home town.

.

Millom

The soft mouths of summer bite at the eyes,

Toothless as a rose and red as the ragged robin;

Mouths on lip

Rouse to sleep

And the green of the field reflected in the skies.

The elder-flower curls inward to a dream,

And memories swarm as a halo of midges;

Children on the grass,

Wicket-high, pass,

In blue sailor jackets and jerseys brown and cream.

Among the champion, legendary men

I see my childhood roll like a cricket-ball.

To watch that boy

Is now my joy –

That he could watch me not was his joy then.

Winter well, one and all.

Summer Pleasures They Are Gone …

A little later than usual, a poem for September. 

This rather chose itself.  When I was at the Chesterfield Festival the other week, fielding in front of me on the boundary was Jon Clare, the promising Burnley-born Derbyshire all-rounder.  In September’s issue of The Cricketer, which I happened to be reading at the time, there was an article about Frank Foster, based on the recently published biography by Robert Brooke, entitled The Fields Were Sudden Bare (a line from Remembrances, by John Clare).

Foster captained Warwickshire to their first Championship victory in 1911, but later succumbed to mental illness and died in St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, where, in its previous guise as the County General Lunatic Asylum, Clare had also spent his last years.

This is the first verse of the poem (which is mainly concerned with mourning the consequences of the enclosure of common land, and nothing to do with cricket at all).

.

 Remembrances

Summer pleasures they are gone like to visions every one
And the cloudy days of autumn and of winter cometh on
I tried to call them back but unbidden they are gone
Far away from heart and eye and for ever far away
Dear heart and can it be that such raptures meet decay
I thought them all eternal when by Langley Bush I lay
I thought them joys eternal when I used to shout and play
On its bank at ‘clink and bandy’ ‘chock’ and ‘taw’ and
ducking stone
Where silence sitteth now on the wild heath as her own
Like a ruin of the past all alone.

 

As an illustration of summer pleasures going and almost gone like to visions, here are two snaps of the closing stages of last Sunday’s County Cup final at Grace Road, between Market Harborough and Loughborough (the match of the season, really) …

The first shows Harborough’s Nick O’Donnell facing the last ball from Leicestershire Academy man Tom Wells (as the shadows lengthen), needing 2 to tie the scores and win on the basis of one fewer wicket lost …

    

and, shortly afterwards, two leg byes having been scrambled, the presentation ceremony …

 

A High Wind in Babylon

Market Harborough v Leicester Caribbean, County Cup, Fairfield Road, 29th May 2011

A brief note on a match I attended on Sunday.  I can’t verify this (because I can’t find a list of winners online), but from my memory of the honours boards at Grace Road, Leicester Caribbean pretty much dominated the County Cup from soon after their inception in 1958 until the 1980s, when, presumably, the supply of first generation immigrants began to dry up and the youth began to turn to football and basketball instead.

They now find themselves in reduced circumstances, in the same league as Great Glen and Wigston.  It’s also worth noting that there is now no club from the City of Leicester left in the Premier Division of the Everard’s League (apparently Ivanhoe don’t count).

Only two of these Caribbeans appeared to be of the Afro- variety (the senior-looking captain and the wicket-keeper).  I’m aware that West Indians of Indian ancestry, from Ramhadin to Chanderpaul, have played an important part in the history of cricket in the region, but my guess would be that expecting Caribbean to have any connection with the West Indies will soon become like expecting Ivanhoe’s players to work on the Ivanhoe Line. 

If not quite like expecting I Zingari to be representative of the travelling community.     

One thing that did connect them to Caribbean was a rather natty helmet in Rastafarian colours – seen here, nestling in some fallen blossom –

Another indication that these Caribbeans were probably home-grown was their imperviousness to the biting wind whipping in off the allotments.  I can’t imagine Chris Gayle performing well in these conditions.

I stuck it until tea, when Harborough had scored (from memory) 285 in their 40 overs with a display of what used to be called calypso cricket (i.e. tonking it all over the place).  I can’t find any record of the Caribbeans’ reply, but I doubt whether they’ll be making any further progress in this competition.   

 

Coming soon on this blog – in a week that has seen a serious outbreak of collapsing in Cardiff, we report on similar outbreaks in Tunbridge Wells (on Monday) and Northampton (this afternoon).  We ask – are these outbreaks connected?  Can anything be done about it?