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

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

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

Radlett Aug 2014

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

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

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

Lost ball

Lost ball 2

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

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

Radlett August 2014

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

Autumn leaves at Radlett

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

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

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




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

Spen Cama Hove

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

Hove pavilion

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


Hove scoreboard

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

C.B. Fry

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

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

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


Dog on pitch


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.

“Prediction Is Very Difficult, Especially About The Future” : as illustrated by a day at Trent Bridge

Nottinghamshire v Middlesex, Trent Bridge, County Championship, 12th April 2013

April is, in the English cricketing world, traditionally the time for predictions.  On the other hand, somewhere in the top ten of great cricketing commonplaces is that the beauty of the game lies in its unpredictability.  My tip for a sure-fire bet would be to put some money on the number of times the phrase ‘Who would have predicted that!‘ is used in the commentary box.

There is a saying in football that ‘the table doesn’t lie’ and that the best side over a full season will always win a given division.  Unfortunately this generally means that, given the imbalance of financial power in the Premiership, there are only three clubs with a realistic chance of winning that league.  Not so in cricket.  In Division One there is only one side (Derbyshire, I’m afraid) who appear substantially weaker on paper than the others.  The others all begin the season with a realistic prospect of finishing Champions and the only prediction I’d make with any confidence is that it will be whichever side plays to the limits of their paper capabilities.

In Division Two, unfortunately, things are a little easier to predict.  There are probably four Counties whose strength on paper makes them promotion candidates (Lancashire, Hampshire, Kent and Essex).  Of the others, it would be a surprise to see Worcester or Northants either being promoted or finishing last, and then, bringing up the rear, there are Glamorgan, Gloucester and some other County I can’t quite bring to mind.

But then again, then again … there is the phenomenon of the side that, through some effort of collective will, plays considerably beyond its apparent capabilities.  Two years ago Lancashire won the Championship with a largely name-free side and last year, of course, Derbyshire, with a ragbag of cast-offs and local talent, defied all predictions by winning promotion.

And then, of course, there is the weather, a great leveller.  Bradman’s Invincibles themselves would have a hard time winning promotion if they were forced to spend most of the season in the pavilion, playing Championship Manager and idly tweeting #Raincard (which is largely what happened to Yorkshire last year).  So there is hope for us yet.

To prove my point, consider the day’s cricket I saw last Friday at Trent Bridge, a strange medley of four entirely distinct passages of play.  In the first two matters proceeded in an orderly and predictable fashion, in the second two the game was turned on its head and turned over again, like an egg-timer being used to boil two eggs.

My first prediction (as I left the house in steady drizzle) that would have been wildly awry would have been that I wasn’t likely to see much cricket and that I was wasting my train fare even going to Nottingham.  In fact, although this was the scene when I arrived at the ground (the floodlights lending it an eerie, midnight sun quality)

Trent Bridge April 2013

play began at 11.30, and continued (more or less continually floodlight) until 5.30 when, puzzlingly, they went off for bad light.

When play resumed Middlesex were on 291/7, in reply to Nottinghamshire’s 278 (Toby Roland-Jones having taken 6-36).  The questions were how far Middlesex could extend their lead (to 75 in the end) and whether the Middlesex ‘keeper Simpson would make his century (left stranded on 97).  The Notts seamers, who had apparently being spraying it around like hyaenas the previous day (to the tune of 57 extras) bowled a little more tightly without suggesting that bowling is going to be their strong suit this year.  Shahzad strutted, Fletcher lumbered and Carter loped and bounced, but not to any great effect.

The Middlesex innings ended conveniently at lunchtime and set up the passage of play that must have had Andy Flower (who was apparently present at the ground) opening his notebook and licking his pencil.

Toby Roland-Jones (the name to drop at the moment) had taken 6-63 in the first innings and would be bowling to the Australian Cowan, and the England prospects Hales, Lumb, Taylor and Patel.  Roland-Jones is 6’4″ (at least), has a long (very long) smoothly oiled run up and is, as you might expect, on the brisk side of fast medium and gets a lot of lift.  Cowan, as it happened, was bowled by the underestimated Murtagh for 1 and Lumb swiftly bagged his pair, LBW to Roland-Jones.

This brought together Hales and Taylor who, mindful, I think, of the presence of Flower, seemed to be on their best and most responsible behaviour, treating Roland-Jones, in particular, with courtly respect.  Once or twice Roland-Jones succumbed to the temptation most tall fast bowlers feel to bounce Taylor (which is like throwing Brer Rabbit into the Tar Pit) and was despatched, but mostly bowled the line indicated in this photograph.  Taylor ostentatiously refused to nibble at the offered bait.

Roland-Jones to Taylor

After 16 overs Hales and Taylor had taken Notts through to 50 without giving any chances.  Roland-Jones and Murtagh were taken off and replaced by the industrious but unrenowned Berg and Dexter, who is close to being a part-time bowler and would not have been bowling at all if James Harris had not pulled a hamstring.  At this point the proprieties were thrown to the winds and the spirit of some Lord of Misrule took over Trent Bridge.

Hales and Taylor must felt that they had seen off the worst of the threat and earned the right to be a little more expansive against the second stringers.  I missed Hales’ dismissal but he was caught behind off Berg for 32.  Patel, who replaced him, hadn’t really earned the right to anything but played a hopeless sort of backhand smash against Dexter that rose almost vertically to be caught by the substitute Podmore (son, perhaps, of Dave, the legendary bits-and-pieces player of the ’80s).  Taylor, presented with a short ball outside off stump by Dexter played a wonderfully muscular cut.  Unfortunately the ball kept low (or at least a lot lower than the stuff he’d been getting from Roland-Jones) and – in the opinion of the Umpire – it caught the underside of his bat on its way through to the ‘keeper.

In swift succession Read and the runner-assisted Wessels were removed by the demon Dexter to take Notts to 68-7.  Shahzad had a brief swish but went the same way at 93-8.  The stalwarts in the crowd sighed, shook their heads and scanned the papers to see what was on the way of football to occupy their newly vacant Saturday afternoon.

The Lord of Misrule must have been tiring of his little joke with Dexter and had thought of a better one, as Luke Fletcher came to the wicket to join the veteran “Dr.” Dre Adams.  Middlesex skipper Rogers, not wanting to push his luck with Dexter, brought Roland-Jones back to – as he must have thought – polish off the tail.  Adams was in no mood to be intimidated by any pesky kid and hit Roland-Jones for three boundaries in his first over, including a huge six over the very long leg side boundary.  The spell was broken and the disbelieving Roland-Jones was transformed from some reincarnation of Joel Garner into a gangly youth bowling in his back garden with a tennis ball.

To make matters worse, until the end of his innings, Fletcher belied his reputation as the Costcutter Flintoff by poking around like Peter Roebuck, before he too started hoicking Roland-Jones into the flowerbeds.

Luke Fletcher at the wicket

Fletcher couldn’t quite make his fifty (b. Murtagh for 47): inevitably he later described himself as ‘gutted’ on Twitter.  Adams finished with 50 from 38 balls and Dexter with a career best 5-27.

Well, who would have predicted that!

As for what Andy Flower would have come away with in his notebook, I’d guess:

Roland-Jones !? Hales ? Taylor ?? Patel !!

Two Sessions And A Funeral : My July In Cricket

When cricketers keep a diary of the season and they’ve hit a real low it is traditionally indicated by the words “No entry”.  I’m tempted to try the same approach, but – for the record – here is a brief account of my attempts to watch cricket in the month of July 2012 (“The year without a Summer”).

Middlesex 2nd XI v Surrey 2nd XI , Radlett

The fascination of Radlett for me is that it’s the first ground I can see from the train on my journey into work when the darkness begins to lift at the end of February.  It seems to offer hope that the Winter is ending and Summer cannot be far away.  Ha!

I had two alternative days pencilled in for this visit.  The first was postponed so that the Surrey players could attend Tom Maynard’s funeral. The second offered just enough hope of play to make the journey worthwhile (there was a spell of bright sunshine between Wellingborough and Bedford) but by the time I arrived it was the familiar wet pitch/thin drizzle scenario.  I cut my losses and spent the afternoon in St Albans Cathedral instead.

On the two days I didn’t attend there seems to have been quite a decent game.  I note that Surrey’s 2nd XI seam attack (Jon Lewis, Tim Linley and Chris Jordan) would give Leicestershire’s first choice bowlers a run for the money.

There are actually two grounds and two pavilions there (the one visible from the train is the reserve ground) and I see from this week’s Cricketer Magazine that Middlesex are specifically developing it as a ‘base away from London‘ with ‘state-of-the-art gym, physiotherapy room, dressing room and first-class quality grass pitches’.  How the other half live, eh?

This is the main pavilion –

and this the one on the reserve ground –

Warwickshire v Sussex, Edgbaston, County Championship

It’s always seemed odd that I’ve never made it to Edgbaston, given how close it is – as the crow flies – to where I live.  But then the crow wouldn’t have to take the train to New Street (dread station!) or pay to get in.  In any case, there was so much rain that I didn’t even bother setting off.

Leicestershire v Worcestershire, Grace Road, CB40

This CB40 match had been cunningly slipped in on a Saturday afternoon, but they didn’t quite succeed in throwing me off the scent and I managed to catch the first and worst half of it (the start was delayed until 3.15).  There was some decent batting from the Pears’ Phil Hughes (who didn’t look as unorthodox as I’d expected) and Moeen Ali (who makes Hashim Amla look like he’s sporting a bit of five’o’clock shadow)

but what caught my eye was the performance in the field of the Foxes’ bargain basement acquisition Mike Thornley.

Thornley (nickname ‘The Major’) was released by his first county (Sussex) but given a second chance by appearing for the Unicorns.  Since being picked up by Leicestershire he’s impressed with the bat but I didn’t realise he bowled as well.  He is old – at 25 – by the standards of the current Foxes squad but – in the field – looks rather like a reincarnation of Charles Palmer (though I don’t think he wears glasses).  He bowls the kind of military medium that you’d expect to see from someone who used to be quite useful in his youth turning over his arm in the Parents’ Match and doesn’t seem to have got the memo about the need for athleticism in the field for the modern multi-dimensional cricketer.  I have hopes of seeing him bowling lobs before the season’s out.

In the second – and better – half of the match, which I missed, Leicestershire won, thanks to a century from Ronnie Sarwan and some hitting at the finish from Harborough’s own Rob Taylor.  With Josh Cobb now installed as the one-day Captain, hopes are rising for this very young side – if, of course, they can ignore the waggling of cheque-books (or credit cards, I suppose, in today’s money) from the region of Trent Bridge.

Northamptonshire v Glamorgan, Wantage Road, County Championship

Having watched one session of a CB40 match on the Saturday I followed it up with one session of a Championship match on the Sunday afternoon.  This seemed to have been cut-and-pasted from another season altogether or possibly another era.  In bright sunshine, promising youngster Rob Newton and blaster from the past David Sales progressed to almost simultaneous centuries against some woeful Glamorgan bowling.

(Interesting to see – by the way – that Roy Virgin has branched out into running health clubs.)

Sales is a fine batsman (think Rob Key-cum-Ali Brown) who, if it hadn’t been for a series of injuries and possibly the arrival of Duncan Fletcher, would surely have been given a chance by England.  Last season he averaged in the low teens and finished bottom of the Northants’ batting averages and most experienced judges (including those at Wantage Road) would not have expected to see much more of him.  But here he was rolling back the years and looking a fine prospect.  I see from The Cricketpaper that he has been ‘given permission to circulate his details to other counties’ and I hope some of them had their spies at Wantage Road.  Probably too old for Nottinghamshire, though.

Derbyshire v Yorkshire, Queen’s Park, Chesterfield, County Championship

If I had to sit at a cricket ground and watch a series of pitch inspections I suppose it would be Queen’s Park.  Everything was in place – the sun reflecting off the marquee –

the sound of children’s laughter from the playground –

the merry whoop-whoop of the miniature railway, some optimistic signs

the only thing missing was the cricket, which was abandoned shortly before 2.00, with a ritualised series of handshakes on the balcony –

I should have known something was up when there was no-one there to charge admission on the gate – though I saw that one thrifty couple (from Yorkshire, presumably) were taking no chances and had set up their deck chairs outside the perimeter fence.

So, on to August, when I’m planning to …

But, if you want to make the Gods of Cricket laugh, write about your plans on your blog.

Look At The Harlequins! (Leicestershire v Middlesex)

Leicestershire v Middlesex, Grace Road, CB40, Sunday 20th May 2012

I’m surprised that no-one seems to have thought of including some footage of the John Player League in the current glut of programmes about the 1970s.  Funded by fags and dependant for its popularity on being a way to circumvent the Sunday licensing laws (where else could you spend all afternoon drinking Double Diamond from a dimpled tankard while getting stuck into a carton of complimentary JPS?) it seems to me as of its time as Choppers and Vic Feather.

But times change and – as of this season – smoking has now been banned from all the seated areas at Grace Road (apparently in response to requests from the Members). The 40 over game persists, though the Merchants of Death have been replaced as sponsors by a BankA couple of seasons ago it had appeared doomed, used like grouting to plug gaps in the schedules (I think I remember seeing one on a Tuesday morning), but has now been restored – mostly – to Sunday afternoons.  I don’t know how seriously anyone takes it as a sporting contest, but – rather like one-day internationals – it generates income and provides a fun day out for all the family.

I’m not even sure how seriously the Counties take it (can anyone other than supporters of that County remember who won it last year?) .  Nor does it help that Leicestershire seem to be so puzzlingly bad at it (last year they won 2 out of 12 matches, and this season they’ve  lost 3, with 1 abandoned) so there isn’t generally much mystery about the likely result at Grace Road.  

What tends to stick in the mind, though, are individual performances  – from Jason Roy and Ben Stokes last season, for instance – and it does give those of us who usually watch Second Division cricket a chance to gawp at a few stars.  Although this  is hardly on a par with queueing up behind Gary Sobers to buy an ice-cream in the old days, Sunday’s main attractions were Steve Finn and Eion Morgan (arms folded, wearing no.7 in the middle of this group). 

Morgan was making his first appearance on a cricket field since February, since when he has trousered vast sums for not appearing in the Indian Premier League.  When he batted, in the course of an unspectacular but untroubled innings by Middlesex, he managed a couple of his trademark reverse sweeps – like a slightly out-of-practice three card trick merchant – before falling victim to Josh Cobb, whose mystery spin must have brought back troubling memories of Saeed Ajmal.  Perhaps.

When Leicestershire replied, Cobb did manage, as usual, to lift the ball over the ring, but only as far as the one fieldsman outside the ring.  Finn then – in murky light – removed in short order Sarwan, Boyce and Smith.  But when you’re facing the fastest bowler in county cricket in dim light I wonder if you see the ball very clearly. I wonder if you see the ball at all?

During his spell at the IPL, Morgan would, of course, have become used to a certain amount of razamattaz – music, dancing girls and so on.  We did our best to smooth his passage back into the domestic season by arranging a performance by the Wigston Enterprise Brass Band in the tea interval.    

Morgan did essay a brief shimmy to ‘Hey Jude’, but it was Finn who seemed most affected, being inspired to a demonstration of interpretative dancing before taking the field.  



Perhaps we really shouldn’t have provoked him.

Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio!

 Leicestershire v Middlesex, Grace Road, County Championship, 14-15 September 2011 

It’s an indication of how quickly the darkness of Autumn seems to descend that although this, the last match of the county season, only took place a week ago it seems to belong to another season altogether. 

My expectation when I booked the time off was that I would be watching Northants joyfully crowning their season with promotion on one day and on the other bidding a fond but melancholy farewell to Grace Road at the end of what has been a less than successful season.

In the event, I didn’t make it to Wantage Road.  Northants, who’d gone to the top of the Division at about the same time (early May) as Leicestershire had taken up residence at the bottom, had faltered, and were left needing a victory with maximum points in their last match against Gloucestershire and a miracle – or, to put it another way, a Leicestershire victory against Middlesex – at Grace Road.

Northants had won by lunchtime on the third day, but had failed to gain maximum bonus points.  All Middlesex needed to do was draw.

I imagine that – contrary to my expectation – the air of melancholy was at Wantage Road and the joy – of a sort – at Grace Road.  A number of pink shirted, expectant  and well refreshed Middlesex supporters had made the journey and kept us entertained with their amusing chants, such as “Middle, Middle, Middle – Sex, Sex, Sex!” and “Who Are You?”.

The Leicestershire players, too, seemed  in good spirits.  The regulars, most of them rested for the game, were looking forward to their trip to India and the younger players were glad to be playing in their place.  Ned Eckersley – who had begun the season as the man with no squad number (but a sackful of nicknames) made a century in the first innings and a fifty in the second.  Greg Smith, who has had a wretched season since coming down from Loughborough, made a century too.

At lunchtime on the last day there was a slightly presumptuous announcement that Middlesex would be presented with the Championship trophy at the end of the match by Giles Clarke.  At 90-5, chasing 124, there was some hope in the East Midlands that Mr. Clarke and the trophy might have to be packed in a taxi and sent over to Northampton, but some late middle order thrashing hauled the Middles over the line and into a shower of champagne and group hugs.

A sub plot – of little interest to the jigging horde of Middlesexers, but of great interest to this blog – was what seemed to be generally assumed – but could not openly be acknowledged – to be James Taylor’s last innings at Grace Road.  He’d made 80 in the second innings – with a defensible total in sight – when he was given out caught behind off Crook.  He stood, turned painfully slowly, looked to the heavens (or at least the Gower Suite) and lingered on his way back the pavilion, thrashing the ground and air with his bat as he went.

It was a particular pity, in the circumstances, that he left the pitch for the last time to a chorus of “Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio” from the Middlesex fans who’d occupied the dugouts – left over from the T20 – in front of the pavilion.

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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).

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.


Sic Transit Gloria Monty

Northamptonshire v Middlesex, Wantage Road, County Championship (day 3), 23 April

As this blog nears its first anniversary (tomorrow), and we move into a second cricket season, I realise that there is a danger of me starting to repeat myself.  There are only so many things one can say about the County Ground in Northampton and I fear that I must have said most of them last year.  Still, there’s always the cricket.

I suppose the main attraction yesterday was the rare opportunity to see Andrew Strauss playing county cricket.  In fact, in my case, a rare chance to see him playing any kind of cricket.  As I don’t have Sky, any player awarded a central contract immediately moves out of my ken and I have to rely on newspaper reports and TMS for my knowledge of their doings. I might as well be living in the 1930s.

Well you’d be much happier living in the ‘thirties, so I don’t know what you’re complaining about (reader’s voice).

I must, in fact, have seen Strauss play quite often.  When I lived in London I watched much less cricket than I do now, but when I did it was generally Middlesex.  Occasionally a young player immediately suggests himself as a future test prospect – a Broad or a  Taylor.  The first time I saw Pietersen he smashed most of the windows in the Meet and peppered the roof for good measure.  If I hadn’t been under the (wholly mistaken) impression that he was South African, I would have had him down too.  But Strauss barely registered with me.  I’d be keeping an eye on, say, Hutton or Joyce, and hardly notice that this cramped looking opener was quietly accumulating runs in the background.

He barely registered yesterday either.  I think if you’d told a small boy (not that there were any small boys at the ground, no sneaking off from school and climbing over the wall in evidence) that they were going to be taken to see the Captain of England, and that he was opening the batting for Middlesex, that boy would have come away with the impression that Scott Newman was that Captain.  They opened the batting together shortly after lunch.  Strauss was out for 32 shortly before tea having given two chances along the way.  Newman scored at twice his pace and, after tea, really cut loose to score 112 in 139 balls.

What else is new?  Northants suddenly  look a poor side.  It’s good to see Sales back from injury, and Loye back from Lancashire, but having lost Van der Wath (to changes in the regulations re. Kolpaks) and Panesar (to – I suspect – mishandling) the bowling looks unthreatening.  I realise that, in saying they are a poor side, I am unconsciously echoing my Grandfather, who would always insist, even in the days (the early seventies) when they had a very good side, that “County not up to much these days”.  It’s a very Northamptonshire trait.

Oh, yes.  All the Panesar-related merchandise (the I love Monty t-shirts, for instance, one of which I bought for my mother (she has a dog called Monty)) has vanished from the club shop.  Not even remaindered.  Sic transit Gloria Monty. 

One thing that hasn’t changed, to continue my series Curious Erections on the Cricket Grounds of England, is this – The Signal Box.  Whether it ever was a genuine signal box I don’t know, though I doubt it.  It is apparently the only part of the ground that remains from its opening in 1908, though some of the Middlesex supporters seemed to think that the sandwiches may have been equally old.  It used to house the scorers and the press box (or media centre, in today’s terms), but is now the home of the Supporters’ Club and its splendid range of second-hand books.  Note the attractive half-timbering.

Signal box 1

Postcript (Sunday morning) : I see from this morning’s paper that – exactly as I had predicted – Northants (who do look a very good side this year) – won the match by six wickets, thanks to an unbeaten 183 from opener Stephen Peters.  I never doubted them for a second!

Leicestershire v Middlesex, Grace Road, County Championship, 11 July

Managed to cheat the Weather Gods here by watching the second day of this match on Saturday.  Good job I did, as the match was over before lunch on the third day.

What’s more –  mirabile dictu – Leicestershire won by eight wickets – their first four day victory of the season.  What seems to me to have happened is that the wet conditions combined with a rarely-used square (further over in the direction of the George Geary Stand than I’ve seen them play before) to create a fast bowlers’ playground, the ball springing up off a length like a tennis ball.  Middlesex all out for 91 in their second innings, Josh Cobb managing 95 on his own.

My next day off to watch cricket is next Friday – the fourth day of Leicestershire v Essex.  Let’s hope Essex are made of sterner stuff than their shambolic neighbours.  (On the other hand, it’s also the first day of Northants v Australians – so I’m covered.)