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

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

Bedfordshire CCC v Cambridgeshire CCC, Bedford Modern School

Leicestershire v Derbyshire, Royal London Cup, Grace Road

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

(all July 2014)

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

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

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

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

Little Bowden Rec July 2014

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

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

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

Young Buck

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

Finedon 1

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

Akhil Patel

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

Finedon Churchyard

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

Bedford 1 (socks)

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

Bedford 3 (slips)

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

Bedford (2) bomber

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

Grace Rd alleyway

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

Stan Fairfield Rd Aug 2014

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

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

Frank Woolley : The Artist Before The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction

Frank Woolley

“So, what was Woolley like?“, as I used to ask my Grandfather (to be answered, usually, with an enigmatic smile) …

Well, he was like this …

“Cricket belongs entirely to summer every time that Woolley bats an innings.  His cricket is compounded of soft airs and fresh flavours.  The bloom of the year is on it, making for sweetness.  And the brevity of summer is in it too, making for loveliness.  Woolley, so the statisticians tell us, often plays a long innings.  But Time’s a cheat, as the old song sings.  Fleeter he seems in his stay than in his flight.  The brevity in Woolley’s batting is a thing of pulse or spirit, not to be checked by clocks, but only to be apprehended by imagination.  He is always about to lose his wicket; his runs are thin-spun.  His bat is charmed, and most of us, being reasonable, do not believe in charms … but for that matter, all the loveliness of the world seems no more lasting than the dew on the grass, seems no more than the perfume and suppliance of a minute.  Yet the miracle of renewal goes on, and all the east winds in the world may blow in vain.  So with Woolley’s cricket; the lease of it is in the hands of the special Providence which looks after the things that will not look after themselves.”

and like this

Woolley and Fielder

but then

“The score-board does not get anywhere near the secret of Woolley.  It can tell us only about Bloggs; for him runs and results are the only justification … An innings by Woolley begins from the raw material of cricket, and goes far beyond.  We remember it long after we have forgotten the competitive occasion which prompted the making of it; it remains in the mind;  an evocative memory which stirs in us a sense of a bygone day’s poise and fragrance, of a mood and a delectable shape seen quickly, but for good and all.  Some of Woolley’s innings stay with us until they become like poetry which can be told over again and again; we see the shapeliness of his cricket with our minds and we feel its beauty with our hearts.  I can think of cricket by Woolley which has inexplicably found me murmuring to myself (that I might get the best out of it)

Lovely are the curves of the white owl sweeping

Wavy in the dusk lit by one large star.

I admit, O reader, than an innings by Woolley has nothing to do with owls and dusk and starlight.  I am trying to describe an experience of the fancy; I am talking of cadences, of dying falls common to all the beauty of the world.  My argument, in a word, is concerned not with Woolley the Kent cricketer, but with that essence of his batsmanship which will live on, after his cricket is done with, after his runs and his averages have been totted up and found much the same as those of many other players.”

A Dying Fall

or then again

“Frank Woolley was easy to watch, difficult to bowl to, and impossible to write about.  When you bowled to him there weren’t enough fielders; when you wrote about him there weren’t enough words.  In describing a great innings by Woolley, and few of them were not great in artistry, you had to go careful with your adjectives and stack them in little rows, like pats of butter or razor-blades.  In the first over of his innings, perhaps, there had been an exquisite off-drive, followed by a perfect cut, then an effortless leg-glide.  In the second over the same sort of thing happened; and your superlatives have already gone.  The best thing to do was to presume that your readers knew how Frank Woolley batted and use no adjectives at all …

Woolley Driving

“I have tried to avoid metaphor and rhapsody; but there was all summer in a stroke by Woolley, and he batted as is sometimes shown in dreams.”

Cricketers survive their deaths (or their cricketing deaths) in different ways.  The only monument Bradman requires are his statistics. There are those who can read equations (to me quite meaningless) and conjure up whole new worlds in their mind’s eye or for whom reading a musical score is as good as hearing it performed and there may be differently gifted people who can read Woolley’s statistics and sniff the “essence of his batsmanship”, but I doubt it.  

It was Woolley’s good fortune to live before it was routinely, if subconsciously, assumed that every great innings would be perfectly and completely recorded on film.  Cardus believes that he is preserving experiences that are unique and unrepeatable and which would be lost for ever without the aspic of his words: Robertson-Glasgow conveys Woolley’s greatness by implying that it lies beyond his powers of description (or Cardus’s).

No-one asking what Kevin Pietersen (in some things a modern Woolley) was like in years to come will think of looking for the answer in writing (and if they do, much of it will tell them more about the history of hysteria than batsmanship).  Every moment of his batting (in internationals and the IPL at least) must have been recorded and may in time be made available, to be watched again and again until, like all endlessly repeatable things, whatever of his aura has survived the transition to film will fade to quaint shadows, form without substance.

For anyone who feels this is getting unacceptably high-flown, rest assured that the season is soon to resume and I shall be back to writing about the quality of the pies at Grace Road.  A subject upon which Neville Cardus was unaccountably silent.

The first two blocks of text are by Neville Cardus, the second two by R.C. Robertson-Glasgow.  The pictures are filched from Woolley’s book “The King of Games”.

A Child’s Christmas In Manchester : by Neville Cardus

Anyone who feels disappointed by their Christmas presents this year might want to spare a thought for the numerous cricket-loving Dads of 1950 who must have been presented with a copy of “Second Innings” by Neville Cardus (“That’ll do for Dad, he loves his cricket“).  Picture them settling down in their favourite armchairs after lunch, sticking their feet up on the pouffe, lighting their pipes and looking forward to seeing what old Cardus might have to say about Freddie Brown’s prospects in Australia, only to be confronted by something like this:

“For though Kant was unable to go beyond appearance to reality, and though his metaphysic ended in an attempt to show us how we might know rather than what we actually do know, he at least spared us from a sort of conception of mind as a passive uncreative blank tablet – a sort of blotting-paper of consciousness upon which the external universe doodles away endlessly and without meaning.”

Scratched heads all round.  By 1950 Cardus was tiring a little of cricket and more tired of being stereotyped as a cricket-writer (a thing he’d never set out to be).  His own choice of title for the book had been (with a nod to Proust) “Remembered Pleasures”: his publishers had cannily insisted on a title suggestive of cricket, though the book contained little about the game.  At least there’s no danger of such misunderstandings occurring if you’ve stuck to the later works of Beefy, Bumble or Boycs.

Rather like a later “Autobiography“, “Second Innings” opens with a bravura passage recalling a South Manchester childhood, although, in the case of Cardus, distance seems to have lent enchantment.  This passage is about Christmas, and I wish you all an equally merry and enchanted one.

“Did it always snow at Christmas when we were young?  I cannot – or at least I will not – remember a “green” Christmas, a Christmas of rain and fog.  The covers of the illustrated papers and “double numbers” turned the nurseries into a glory of holly and robin redbreast and stage-coaches and rosy inns and coachmen with pleated capes.  Snow at Christmas makes the clock go back; it touches everything with a medieval spirit, mingling jollity and the grotesque; “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” and “The Mistletoe Bough”; brandy flames round the pudding and ghost stories.  If Christmas Eve should be white and moonlit, the star of mysticism may be seen to shine over even an English Christmas; for the English Christmas is one less of poetry than of hospitable prose.

When the meadows froze, people would hunt out skates, wooden and steel.  The rivers and ponds were a mass of moving figures.  At any moment the weight of them threatened a crash and splintering a crash and splintering of ice.  Elderly men with mufflers over their shoulders puffing out their breath on their cold air.  Boys and girls, young men escorting young ladies, their skates rhythmically keeping time.  Then there were “slides,” on which a perpetual queue proceeded in various attitudes of arrested animation; some dashing along legs wide asunder, others as though human volition were gone – once landed on a slide there was little freedom of the will and much stiffness at the knee-joints; and as you glided forward, or rather were subtly propelled, there was always the feeling that the person behind you was inimical, at least not friendly.

Then there was the Christmas pantomime.  I once stole out of my home and without a word to anybody went to an afternoon performance of Aladdin. I climbed to the high gallery of the Prince’s Theatre in Manchester, admission sixpence.  While I sat aloft, and looked down on all the kingdoms of the world, time came to a standstill, and outside the afternoon turned to night.  When the spell was broken I found myself in the Oxford Road; snow was falling.  There had been no warning of it when I entered the theatre.  I had sat in the gallery trembling with excitement as one scene was conjured from another.  All the time, behind my back, the snow had come to a great city on the eve of Christmas.

Under a clear moon and a sky pulsing with stars as through frosted, I was allowed to go out with the Christmas “Waits” singing carols.  I carried a lantern which was like a little castle; through a skin of parchment it was possible to see the wick inside burning steadily.  The glow thrown upward by the lamps set into relief the faces of the singers; and I remember an old man with a beard like Christ;  the shadows on his cheeks and under his eyes made me think of a picture I loved – Holman Hunt’s “the Light of the World.”

The snow was hard under our feet.  When we walked up the drives of houses in Victoria Park we made crunching noises, and we spoke in whispers as we prepared to sing outside the wide porches.  There was a desire amongst us that the carols should he heard inside the houses without warning: it was a seasonal ritual and greeting.

Christians awake!

Salute the happy morn!

After a while, long enough to suggest that our music had been listened to for its own sake, the door would open and we would be asked to come inside.  It was this way, I think, that I first saw a large gleaming dining-room and old furniture, a chandelier, a crackling log-fire and silver rimmed biscuit boxes.  Our host might easily have been little Max himself, not old yet, with many Christmases still before him.

I was not allowed to stay out all through the night and go with the “Waits” from house to house until Christmas morning dawned; but in my little bedroom at home I would wake very early and grope for my stocking and try to guess without lighting a candle what was in it.  And I would hear, from the distance, now near on the wind and now far, the cheerful greeting:

Hail smiling morn,

That tips the hills with gold!

Snow on the roofs, in the streets and in the fields beyond, a mantle of peacefulness.  Snow falling, and snow dissolving, as imperceptibly as all these happy hours were vanishing and passing on their way.  At no point could we detect a transition, increase or decrease; nobody ever saw the first or the last flake of a snowstorm.  So, like to the falling snow, in which no flake is different from another, or more laden with fate or change – so with our myriad lives and the whole of the world of those days.  Peace on earth, goodwill towards all men.  Where was the mortal heart that didn’t believe it?  No man envies another and would take his place; yet the years bow us here and there, and we are sent drifting on winds as wayward as those that swing the weather-vane on the snowy roof.”

Frederick Delius : Yorkshire Cricketer

“His eyes half-open, the wonderful dome like finely chiselled marble, the sinuous and gouged neck, the loose white open-necked shirt and loosely knitted tie, perfectly creased white cricket trousers and white canvas shoes, bare legs like triangular sticks of wood – it all seemed so terribly, overwhelmingly sad.” (Felix Aprahamian, describing a meeting with Delius in 1933).


The question of cricket and music, and whether the two should ever be mixed, divides opinion.  Some clearly find that hearing ‘Another one bites the dust’ over the Tannoy whenever a batsman is dismissed or ‘Tom Hark‘ when a boundary is hit enhances their enjoyment of the game.  I differ on this point, but feel that a brass band (of the kind that used to play at the Scarborough Festival) would be perfectly acceptable, as would a string quartet at – say – the late lamented Oakham Festival, or perhaps at Tunbridge Wells.

Thanks to modern technology, of course, we can now choose whatever soundtrack we like to accompany our cricket.  If I had to choose the work of a single composer my first thought would be Frederick Delius.  If, in the depths of Winter (today, for instance) I close my eyes, ‘On hearing the first cuckoo in Spring‘  will take me to the first day of some Platonic early season fixture. On a wild Winter’s night  ‘A Song of Summer‘, ‘The walk to the Paradise Garden’, ‘A Summer night on the river‘ can transport me to that Ideal day at the cricket in High Summer that rarely arrives in reality but, once experienced, lingers at the back of the mind, to be summoned by music or willpower however bleak one’s surroundings.

I’ve always suspected that this was a purely personal association, but a little research reveals that Delius was, indeed, a lover of cricket and a decent cricketer in his own right.  And not only that, but a Yorkshire cricketer.  The Delius family belonged to that type of Yorkshireman almost peculiar to Bradford, as described by another Bradfordian, J.B. Priestley:

‘There was this curious leaven of intelligent aliens, chiefly German-Jews and mostly affluent.  They were so much a part of the place when I was a boy that it never occurred to me to ask why they were there.  I saw their outlandish names on office doors, knew that they lived in pleasant suburbs, and obscurely felt that they had always been with us and would always remain.  That small colony of foreign or mixed Bradfordians produced some men of great distinction, including a famous composer [Delius], two renowned painters, and a well-known poet.’

When Eric Fenby (the composer’s amanuensis in his later years of French exile, when he was blind and compelled to use a wheelchair) was first introduced to Delius, they ‘bonded’ (as we would now say, perhaps) over cricket:

“We talked about Scarborough, which he had known very well as a boy. Did I go to the Cricket Festivals as he had done? Did I know Filey ? What glorious times he had had there when his family used to take a house in the Crescent for the summer holidays ! How he loved playing cricket in the neighbouring villages of Gristhorpe and Hunmanby, and what fine fellows the farm-hands were!”

and later in Fenby’s ‘Delius as I Knew Him‘ we learn how talk of cricket seemed to release the invalid from his confinement and lighten his mood:

“That summer, Delius was particularly interested in the cricket test matches between England and Australia. Every morning, when I came down to lunch, I read to him the scores and the full account of each day’s play. The progress of each match was watched with as much keenness as that of two spectators on the ground, and Mrs. Delius used to say that she had never heard so much talk about cricket as when her ‘two Yorkshire lads’ got together. And the old ‘un used to brag how, in his prime, he had never let a loose ball go by without punishing it unmercifully, and never dropped a catch in the slips, and the young ‘un used to believe him and tell how he had once skittled a team of yokels with his googlies for seven runs.”

So well-known is this image of Delius as tetchy and imprisoned by illness that we forget the younger man.  His sister Clare, though, in her memoir ‘Memories of my brother’ relates:

“At cricket, however, both he and his brother were notable successes. It was his passion for cricket, indeed, which oddly enough helped him forward on his musical career. Coming from the playing fields one day, the boys were playing about with the wickets which they had just drawn, using them as spears. One of these missiles, thrown with great force, stuck in Fred’s head, causing a very serious wound. The illness was a lengthy one, involving a long period of convalescence. During those days of enforced idleness, Fred spent the whole of his time at the piano in one or other of the music rooms. Sir Fred Moore has told me how my brother used to waylay him in the passage, and drag him into the music room and make him sing for him. ” It didn’t matter whether I had the music or not. If I knew the words and tune, that was enough. Fred would make up the most wonderful accompaniments, full of the marvellous harmonies for which years later he was to become so celebrated.”

The precise details of Delius’s playing career are harder to track down, though, in an article in the ‘Delius Society Journal’ from Spring 2004 entitled ‘Delius, the Cricketer‘,  T. Ian Roberts has found the details of a match between Giggleswick School and Mr. W.A. Dawson’s XI (a touring side from Bradford) from May 1882 when one F. Delius scored 11 and 4 and took 1-22 off 40 balls.  In another issue of the Journal Fenby informed its readers that the portrait by Ida Gerhardi that appears at the top of this piece was probably painted when Delius was ‘playing cricket for Paris‘, so clearly he managed to carry on getting the odd game after he left England for France in 1897.

Exile and blindness were the conditions by which Delius was constrained, and perhaps it would be missing the point to load my MP3 player with music by Delius when actually watching – say – Leicestershire take on Nottinghamshire on the 3rd of April in a pre-season friendly.  If  Delius was thinking of his youthful days at Scarborough when writing some of his Summer-summoning pieces from his French retreat (and I think he may have been), he was attempting to reclaim and preserve those perfect moments, the essence of the thing; it would be unwise and unfair to expose the phenomenal reality in front of one’s eyes to such comparisons.

The perfect person to write about Delius the cricketer would have been Neville Cardus.  They did meet once, in 1929, though they do not seem to have talked cricket.  Cardus remarked on Delius’s Yorkshire accent and wrote:

“There was nothing pitiable in him, nothing inviting sympathy in this wreck of a physique. He was wrapped in a monk-like gown, and his face was strong and disdainful, every line on it graven by intrepid living.”

Cardus wrote the obituary for Delius in ‘The Manchester Guardian’. I think this passage gets to the heart of the matter:

“Nearly all of Delius’s music recollects emotion in tranquillity. The sudden climaxes of passion – and we get one of the most beautiful in all music in the “Summer Garden” – are not climaxes caused by excitement of blood or nerve. They are the climaxes of a mind moved by the poetry that comes of beauty remembered. Delius is always reminding us that beauty is what is left for us when the show of life has passed on. Experiences have all sorts of values and significances. Other composers are more human than Delius, because their music contains the dynamics of life and action felt immediately – now!

Delius seems almost always to be aloof from the life active – life which, because it is active, is transitory.

To-day Delius’s music is loved, not merely liked, because in an age when most of the arts have little to do with beauty, but have apparently been overwhelmed by the complexity, the cynicism, and even the hastiness and noise of modern civilisation in this age, Delius has made for us a music which is serene and never unbeautiful.”

The Ache Of Festival Cricket

Back to Cardus and The Summer Game –

“The end happens at far-away Eastbourne – or if it doesn’t it ought, for poetry’s sake, to do so – and after the last drawing of stumps a leaf falls from a tree and a faint mist touches the field.  Summer is over, and cricket too.  Goodbye a hundred happy days in the open air;  good-bye Lord’s, Tonbridge, Gloucester.  The North of England cricketer who packs his bags for the season’s last time away down at Eastbourne lets his cab take him to the railway station and it is twilight, with the street lamps shining bitterly on the sea front.  The homeward journey to Manchester is a period of sentimental reverie; what can life possibly contain for a fellow to-morrow? No Old Trafford – only the ache of festival cricket.  Pass, now, summer game; late September is on you, dark winter not far behind; you are only for the light …”

I’m not sure there is a satisfactory way for the cricket season to end.  This year it’s ending (on the 14th) with what ought to be the climax of the County Championship (though in fact all the important questions were resolved this week, other than whether Leicestershire will finish last again).  Then, on Saturday the 15th, there is the final of the forty over competition.  This is presumably an attempt to combine the Cup Final atmosphere of the old Gillette Cup with the finale of the John Player League (which used to occur at roughly the same time).  I doubt if it’s of much interest now, except for those directly involved.

And then, like an irritating blue-bottle buzzing away somewhere is a corner of the room, just out of sight but hard to put entirely out of mind, there is the series of T20 matches between England and South Africa.

Until the ‘sixties (and the invention of the Gillette Cup) the solution to the problem seems to have been to play only at the seaside in September, a pleasant coda to the cricket season and a welcome extension of the Summer season for the seasiders. There were the two great festivals at Scarborough (still surviving in diminished form) and its Southern equivalent at Hastings.  The Hastings Festival petered out in 1966 and the ground itself was abandoned by Sussex in 1996 (it’s now the site of a shopping centre). Matches were also played at Blackpool (Stanley Park), Bournemouth (Dean Park), Torquay (Recreation Ground), Portsmouth (United Services Recreation Ground) and Hove.

The usual form was to have the serious business of the Championship wrapped up by the end of August (though it would be followed by a match between the Champion County and the Rest).  The Festival games might include a reprise of Gentlemen v Players, the equally prestigious (though often forgotten) North v South, sometimes East v West, matches against the touring side and various invitation XIs (A.E.R. Gilligan’s XI, T.N. Pearce’s XI, Leveson-Gower’s XI).

Cardus’s reference to Eastbourne is intriguing.  I can only find two references to a first-class match being played at the Saffrons, Eastbourne in September (before 1929, when The Summer Game was published in book form).  One began on the 23rd September 1922 (RAF v the Rest), the other on the 20th September 1922 between the North of England and the South.  Perhaps it was the second match he was thinking of – and the North of England cricketer was, in fact, himself?  The Lancashire players who might have accompanied him back to Manchester were Tyldesley, Parkin and the obscure F.W. Musson.

The match itself must have been a disappointment to the boatered crowd who’d turned up expecting a display of gay festival hitting from the likes of Tennyson,  Woolley and Fender.  It was a low scoring affair, ending a day early.  The Yorkshire slow left armer Roy Kilner seems to have been the villain of the piece, taking 5-11 to bowl the South out in their second innings for 63.  Perhaps that’s why they didn’t repeat the experiment.

Cardus goes on to say “It is the brevity of the summer season that makes the game precious.”  Of course, to those who follow cricket mainly on satellite television, the season has no ending and no beginning.  The season is less precious to them, perhaps, though they do escape these aches of late September.

A Vision Of All The Cricket Fields In England

The current state of play at Grace Road

Well, that’s it from Grace Road for the time being, so I’ll hand you back to the studio.  We hope to be returning some time next month.

Unless I have mis-read the fixture list, there is no more cricket at Grace Road until a CB40 match on the 14th of July and another on the 22nd.  The next day of Championship cricket (the first since the 8th of June) will be on the 27th of July.  There is a fairly pointless one-day match against the Australians, to prepare them for the upcoming completely pointless series of ODIs and plenty of T20s (5 home and 5 away), with all the home matches being played on weekday evenings.  I couldn’t watch these even if I wanted to.

It isn’t that I dislike T20 cricket per se.  The one match I’ve seen live (on a Sunday afternoon) I quite enjoyed ; as an afternoon out, it wasn’t vastly different to the usual 40-over bunfight.  I can see the argument that it has led to the development of new skills – though I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to feel wild excitement at the bowling of a dot ball or a steer through some non-existent slips.  Even the gimmicks (including, this year, using the X Factor man to announce the players as they come into bat) have, in the domestic game, the make-do-and-mend cheeriness of a village fete.

What I do genuinely hate about T20 (and that’s not too strong a word) is the way that its total dominance of June and July has ruined the County season.

There is a practical aspect to this.  If  Championship cricket is pushed further forwards into April and May there is always a good chance that it will be reduced to a farce by rain.  The last two years the gamble has come off, but this year – as anyone who has watched much of it will attest – has been a thoroughly miserable experience for the spectators, with the sides leading at the half way mark being those who’ve been lucky with the weather and ridden their luck in terms of freak declarations and forfeits.  When it resumes there will be sides whose season is effectively over, and not in all cases through their own fault.

I cannot remember speaking to anyone who watches 4-day cricket regularly who would not prefer to have the T20 competition spread throughout the season – perhaps one a fortnight on Friday nights.  In the world of fantasy, they could spread them around the outgrounds (Grand Twenty Twenty Cricket Match Tonight! All The Fun Of The Fair!).  By doing so, there could be more matches played (and so more revenue) and less chance that a wet June would ruin it.

Why the T20 fixtures are so condensed I genuinely don’t understand.  One argument, I think, is that the players find it hard to switch between different forms of the game.  But they used to be able to cope when 40 over matches were played in the middle of 3 day games, and I’d have thought it was more difficult to readjust to playing Championship cricket after six weeks of T20 than chopping and changing between the two.

Another, I imagine, is that it means the domestic competition does not overlap with any other T20 tournament and so it allows supranational galacticos to jet from tournament to tournament without forming any real affiliation to a particular side.  Neither does it overlap with the football season, and I think it is true that some of the specialist T20 crowd are essentially football fans looking to fill in time between seasons with a quasi-football experience.  (Not that this helps when England are playing in an international competition).

But my real objection goes beyond the practical ones, and that is that by hogging the whole of High Summer T20 has ruined what Mike Selvey (in a poetic moment) called the cadences of the County season.  Everyone could put up with a damp May if there were a full-flowering June to look forward to, and everyone could put up with the dog days of August if there were a flaming July to look back on.

I can’t describe this any better than Neville Cardus did in his great essay ‘The Summer Game’ , so I’ll quote from it instead.  (I suspect the titles of Cardus’s books – Days in the Sun, The Summer Game, Good Days – would be hard for the modern fan to connect with cricket at all.  Days in Front of the Telly and Nights under the Floodlights might be evocative for them.)

“Cricket has the movement of summer in its growth and budding-time.  The game comes to us modestly on spring’s rainy days, and like a plant it turns to the sun and is not happy when an east wind blows.  But as the season passes, cricket begins to flower; by the time hot June is come it is roses, roses all the way from Old Trafford to Canterbury.  Sit on the Mound Stand at Lord’s on midsummer morning at noon, and if the sun be ample and you close your eyes for a while you will see a vision of all the cricket fields in England at that very minute; it is a vision of the game’s rich seasonal yield; a vision of green spaces over our land, of flashing bats, of thudding, convulsive bowlers, and men in white alone in the deep or bent low in the slips.”

If you sat on the Mound Stand at noon on midummer morning this year (admittedly a Sunday) you’d see no first-class cricket at all (apart from the Varsity match in Oxford), though if you waited until the afternoon you could catch a couple of T20 matches.

Bring it on!

Hoping Against Hope …

Leicestershire v Hampshire, CB40, Grace Road, 17th July 2011

Unhappy Hampshire

“A collection of score cards faded with age, a volume of “Wisden” yellow as Autumn sunshine, will speak of the English climate and of the English summer’s caprices.  The hot days witness the processional movement of batsmen to their centuries; the wet days see them dispossessed, disenthroned, and of no account.  The weather of England enters cricket like a deus ex machina …

Frequently there is no decision at all in cricket, sometimes scarcely a beginning.  But it is on rainy days that the charm of the game has been known to work its most subtle spells for those who play country cricket, away from the bricks and mortar of Kennington and Leeds (both much beloved in their places).  The vacant and rural field is shrouded in mist as you walk through the entrance-gate hoping against hope.  There is a sound of footsteps on the wooden pavilion; perhaps there’ll be play after all.  Then the clouds are suddenly torn apart, and the sun changes the grass to a field of jewels.  And men in white appear from nowhere, and soon two little mounds of sawdust are placed at each end of the wicket and bowlers sometimes lose volition like boys on a slide, and the bat sends forth its ineffectual thud; while in adjacent trees the birds make busy noises, and aloft in the blue sky there are great castles on cliffs of clouds, and burning lakes.  These things all belong to the game as much as the implements, the technical achievement, and the “result”.  Neville Cardus, from English Cricket : Collins, 1945.

Well, it wasn’t quite like that on Sunday, unfortunately.  Hampshire were on and off the pitch four times to reach 89-1 and the game was abandoned.  A brief glimpse of James Vince in action on the installment plan and then home.

But, of course, it’s always worth turning up if the forecast is uncertain.  Events might unfold  as in Cardus’s account, there are worse places to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon than the Fox Bar or the Meet –

The View From The Meet

and there is always the hope of some unexpected pleasure such as … winning first prize in the raffle!

A bat signed by the Leicestershire squad in aid of Claude Henderson’s benefit (pictured here having a well-deserved  lie-down on the sofa).