Many Exits And An Entrance : My September In Cricket

Grace Road Autumn

Leicestershire v Essex, Grace Road, County Championship

Northamptonshire v Sussex, Wantage Road, County Championship (both September 2014)

September in cricket?  I’m not convinced there should be any.  My ideal season would end with the Championship wrapped up by the end of August, the last Test on August Bank Holiday and only a week or two of festival cricket at the seaside to come.  Of course, we would lament the absence of cricket, what with the weather being so lovely and everything, but really it is the Summer Game and it should end with Summer.

Both Leicestershire and Northamptonshire’s seasons had effectively ended well before the August hiatus in the Championship anyway.  Neither had won a match nor looked likely to, so having to play another couple of matches in September felt a little like a boxer who’d already thrown in the towel being shoved back into the ring to take a few more rounds of punishment.

The end of the season is, of course, the time for goodbyes, and, in cricket, these are seldom easy or handled well.  Ideally the faithful old retainer would, after many long years of service, acknowledge that his leg cutter no longer had quite the nip it used to and regretfully inform the Secretary of his intention to retire.  After brushing aside attempts to dissuade him “But Joe, the old place just won’t be the same without you” he would leave to a rousing chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow” and invest the takings from his benefit in a little public house (where he would not, of course, become too fond of his own wares and decline into alcoholism).

But that is not often how it is handled these days.  Although there will be many players bidding farewell to both Grace and Wantage Roads at the end of this season, their circumstances are a little different.  At Leicestershire the best young players are trying to leave against the wishes of the club, and at Northants the club are retiring their older players, in some cases against their wishes.

Before the match against Essex had started Nathan Buck was known to be fleeing for Lancashire, Shiv Thakor for Derbyshire and, during the course of it, Captain Cobb announced that he would be decamping to Wantage Rd. (perhaps to be nearer to his florist’s shop)

Cobbys the Florist

Since then Greg Smith has announced that he’s leaving for Nottinghamshire, where I think he might be seeing a lot of Lady Bay (works in the tea bar underneath the scoreboard on Thursdays, nice lass), which leaves only Ned Eckersley still frantically sending out a “come and get me plea”

Come and get me! Please!

Come and get me! Please!

 

My two penn’orth on what is wrong with Leicestershire and what can be done about it will have to wait for another day, but I would say that the most dispiriting aspect of what turned out to be the last day of the season at Grace Rd. (Leicestershire having lost by an innings within two days) was that there were so few Leicestershire supporters there to see it and so many from Essex.  Put a few deckchairs out and we could have been on the seafront at Clacton.

Considered rationally, Northants have had an even worse season than Leicestershire (albeit at a higher level).  Leicestershire at least held their own over the first two days in most of their games (on the basis of bonus points alone they would have finished fifth) whereas Northants have been thoroughly outclassed in almost every match.  In spite of that the atmosphere at Wantage Road seemed rather more cheerful.  I’m not convinced the regulars there really enjoy being successful, for one thing.  For another, none of the more promising young players are making desperate attempts to tunnel their way out and those who are leaving can at least say they’ve had a good innings (or be told that by others) and leave with the blessings of the stalwarts (as, here, do James Middlebrook and Andrew Hall)

Godbye to Middlebrook and Hall

Talking of exits, this may have been Peter Willey’s last match as an Umpire (subject to legal action). I’m not certain that I saw him play on this ground in his debut season (1966), but it’s more than likely that I did, in which case I’ve been watching him, in one capacity or another, for almost half a century.  I must say he’s aged a lot better than I have.

Willey leaves the field

For every exit there’s an entrance, more or less, of course, and here – waiting to make his – is 16-year-old Saif Zaib, who’s been signed on a three-year contract.  Haven’t seen him play, but I’m told he’s quite useful.

Waiting to make an entry

I first saw Willey play in the company of my Dad.  I like to keep track of the peregrinations of his memorial bench when I’m at Wantage Road and, on this occasion, he had his back to the action and was securing a temporary sightscreen. I suppose that might be what he would have wanted.

 

Memorial bench

Ah well.  That’s me done. For another year, anyway.

 

Bad Light / White Heat (Leicestershire v Essex)

Leicestershire v Essex, Grace Road, County Championship, Day 4, 19th May 2012

Well, you can’t say they didn’t try to make a game of it, but, as I was remarking just the other week, Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi Est (in this case, in the person of Peter Willey).

I have seen fears expressed that our old friend the contrived finish might be a victim of sensitivity to accusations of match fixing but that didn’t seem to be the case at Grace Rd. yesterday.  Certainly any shady Indian betting syndicates who’d thought to put a few million rupees on Wayne White scoring a 12 ball 50 would have been considerably better off by the afternoon. 

The start of play was delayed until 1.30 by persistent mizzle.  The personable Tymal Mills, fielding on the boundary, relayed the news to us that the arrangement was that Leicestershire were going to be setting Essex a target of 270 (I didn’t see anyone on their ‘phones to Ladbrokes at this point).

I think most of us secretly like a bit of declaration bowling (perhaps something to do with the carnivalesque reversal of the normal roles and rules) and Josh Cobb added to the humour of the situation by being caught behind off his second ball from Adam Wheater (his second ball in first class cricket).  As a freebie century would have done his average a power of good, Cobb may not have enjoyed the joke as much.  Ronnie Sarwan was two short of his century when he skied it straight to Tymal Mills, who must have been wondering what the etiquette was in these situations, before taking the catch.  In his current form, Sarwan might have done better to play his normal game.

Someone behind me pointed out – as slow half volleys were served up and the crowd cowered under a hail of sixes – it was just like watching the IPL (without the music, or the spectators).  Apart from White’s 12 ball 50, Ned Eckersley bagged 70 off 19 balls and they can both be expecting an approach from the Deccan Chargers any time soon. 

Mission accomplished, Essex began their reply and looked in all sorts of trouble against Leicester’s pace trio of Hoggard, Buck and Joseph.  So much so that, after about an hour, they all came off the field again, citing Bad Light.  Umpires Willey and Lloyds made a series of further inspections 

but after a brief resumption the match was called off shortly before four o’clock. 

Most counties would regard coming off for Bad Light as an anachronism, but Grace Road is one of the few grounds (I think) that does not have permanent floodlights yet.  One day I expect to see the last abandonment for Bad Light, which will be a bit like witnessing the last cavalry charge,or the last native speaker of Manx.

In case any readers new to cricket are confused about the difference between Good and Bad Light, this

is Good Light (the divine light that emanates from the throne of God and his Angels), and this

is Bad Light, the kind brought by Lucifer himself.

You can always tell that T20 is in the offing because strange objects begin to make their appearance around the ground a few weeks in advance.  Last year they were in connection with the Hawaian theme adopted for the T20 season, but this year’s theme is more of a mystery. 

These two objects

might be sentry boxes, or perhaps Edwardian bathing huts.  Their use can only be guessed at.  Perhaps the umpires will stand in them and emerge, dressed in Edwardian bathing costumes, to hold up signs indicating which kind of weather is causing the game to be abandoned.  Or perhaps they’re planning to replace the cricket with a swimming gala. 

Leicestershire are still second to bottom of Division 2, largely because of the points deducted for a slow over rate in their victory over Glamorgan.  Perhaps we should give up and try again in July, when the weather might have improved.  (Exactly what we will be doing, of course).