Wring Out The Old : My Sodden Year In Cricket

Lord's_weathervane

So, time for Old Father Time to whip the bails off at the end of another year.  I’ve often thought that’s it’s a stroke of genius for the Home of Cricket to have this momento mori as its icon, looking down always on even the balmiest of days to remind us that eventually all innings must end, days end, matches end, seasons end, careers end, lives end.  There’s been a lot of that this year.

What’s missing, I suppose is anything to represent the New Year.  I hear from Twitter that an Umpire in the Big Bash has been seen sporting “a tattoo on the inside of his forearm and a soul patch beard”, so perhaps we could have him replacing a pair of flashing LED bails to personify Hope for the Future.

But before contemplating that grisly scenario, a brief look back at my cricketing year, mainly in pictures.

April

Robbie Joseph 1

The season started brightly for Leicestershire (as it did last year) with a victory over Glamorgan, as Robbie Joseph set a new record for a Leicestershire debutant by taking 12-111 in his first match for the county.  He went on to take another 12 wickets during the rest of the season and has been released from his contract.

May

We try to compete with the razzle dazzle of the IPL by hiring the Wigston Enterprise Brass Band to provide the teatime entertainment.  England star Steve Finn, dressed as a Harlequin, gets into the groove..

But mostly it rained.

No More Play

And, if it didn’t rain, the light was bad.  Here we see Umpires Willey and Lloyds about to call play off for the day (though, as compensation, they did do a bit of Cossack dancing to keep the crowd entertained.)

Willey & Lloyds

June

The Windies visited Grace Road.  It rained (as predicted by this astute local).

Weather Forecast

July

The Chesterfield Festival is rained off (in spite of the fact that it wasn’t raining).  This astute Yorkshire couple avoid wasting the entrance fee by setting their deckchairs up outside the perimeter fence:

Thrifty Couple at Chesterfield

and I satisfied a long-felt want by visiting Radlett’s ground for a Middlesex 2nd XI match.  Unfortunately that’s rained off too.

At the end of the month, though, the rain clears briefly and Leicestershire’s new Marvellous Boy, Shiv Thakor plays the first of a number of fine innings (he finishes the season with an average of 61 in First Class Cricket and 55 in the CB40).  The spectators are so grateful to see any cricket, let alone this, that they strew his path with flowers and he is awarded as many out of date crisps from the Meet as he can eat.  He is my Man of the Season.

Shiv Thakor

August

The floodlights were turned on at lunchtime at Trent Bridge

Difficult Light

Rain of Biblical proportions  afflicted Wantage Road

Biblical Proportions

and I took refuge in the Turner Suite.

Wantage Road Interior

September

Leicestershire took advantage of a late break in the clouds to win two matches and finish third from bottom in Division 2.  Mike Thornely, uncharacteristically, broke a window in the Meet.  The cost of replacement was deducted from his wages.

Thornely Breaks Window

In the last match of the season, my other Man of the Year, Rob White, scored a second century for Market Harborough.  White was released from his contract by Northants earlier in the season and the first time I saw him at Fairfield Road I didn’t realise who he was – I just saw a flamboyant and obviously classy batsman scoring a fluent hundred against the Leicestershire League’s paciest bowlers (Freckingham and Wells of Loughborough) wearing a sunhat.  Looking more closely, I noticed that this was his Northants sunhat.  Not only raging against the dying of the light, perhaps, but having a good go at reversing it (I imagine he’s open to offers).  And here he is, after finishing the season with a six into the pavilion to win the match against Kegworth.

Fairfield Rd 7 - White

I’ve no idea who the small boy following him off the field is, but I think I’ll nominate him to represent the New Year.

Advertisements

Stump Watch For November 2012

1: And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark: and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters asswaged;
2: The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained;
3: And the waters returned from off the earth continually: and after the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters were abated.

Stump Watch November 2012

21: And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.
22: While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

Three Sessions And A Wedding

Northamptonshire v Yorkshire, County Championship, 3-4 August

After that brief interruption for cricket, another couple of days ruined by rain.  Some kind of punishment, perhaps, for not doing my patriotic duty by sitting in front of the telly all day.

A pity, because, in its understated way, it had the makings of a fine match.  If the rain could have been edited out, we’d be starting the fourth day with Yorkshire on 74-3 in their second innings, still 29 runs behind and I’d be sitting there looking forward to some gritty digging in to save the game.  It was good to see Adil Rashid back in the groove and claiming five wickets, and I was impressed by Joe Root’s weed-like tenacity at the crease.

As it was, the drill was the same on both days.  A balmy morning (if play had started at 6.oo we’d have been fine), followed by a downpour at lunch.  On the Friday the groundstaff made heroic efforts through the afternoon and play, improbably, resumed at 4.30.  It’s a sign of how desperate both sides are for points that we witnessed the unusual sight of the Captains pleading with the reluctant Umpires to allow play to resume.

On Saturday the rain was so heavy that the ground looked like a scene from a painting by John Martin or Francis Danby

(in this picture the man under the green umbrella is Jonny Bairstow, who must have been pleased to have been here rather than at home in Headingley)

Unfortunately, I missed the announcement that the game had been abandoned, having sought shelter from the storm in the County Ground’s Holy of Holies – The Milburn Room.  This is sort of four-ale bar at the back of the pavilion which seems to have been preserved unchanged since the ‘sixties in homage to the great man.  To make it easier to ignore the cricket altogether they usually keep the curtains drawn –


There I sat, listening to TMS and reading a two page cover story in The Guardian by Will Self, explaining why he feels like an outsider.  If he really wanted to feel like that he should have joined me in the Milburn Room.  When I emerged – in bright sunshine – the ground was empty except for a wedding reception who had occupied the Aspers Casino complex.  When they made their booking they must have imagined that they would be looking out over shadows flitting to and fro o’er the greensward as they quaffed their Champagne, not the captains shaking hands and apparently agreeing to knock off after lunch.

I find it hard to believe that any side have had their season quite as comprehensively ruined by the weather as Leicestershire, but Yorkshire must run them close. At present Leicestershire’s record is P 12 W 1 L 2 D 9, Yorkshire’s P 12 W 2 L 0 D 10.  It’s a sign of how few results there have been this year that Yorkshire are 2nd in the table, Leicestershire last.  If Derbyshire (as one of the few sides who’ve managed to get a few games finished) can win today they will feel justified in counting their chickens.  Other than that, look out for some absurdly contrived finishes as sides grow ever more desperate for points.

Looking around for some kind of precedent for this appalling season, older hands at Derby must be thinking of 1936, when they won their only Championship, and greybeards at Wantage Road, wistfully, of 1912 when Northants achieved their best ever placing of 2nd.

Both years were badly affected by the weather, allowing the less thoroughbred Counties to take advantage.  Roy Webber, in his invaluable work The County Cricket Championship (Sportsman’s Book Club, 1958) describes those years thus

“The 1912 Championship was played under a double handicap.  First, the Triangular Tournament cost some counties their best players for six Test matches.  Second the weather was far from favourable and nearly half (!!! – ed.) of the county matches were left drawn.”

“Derbyshire won the 1936 Championship mainly by virtue of their out-cricket, the contrast of pace by W.H. Copson and spin by T.B. Mitchell proving too much for most of their opponents.  The speed with which they disposed of the opposing batsmen accounted for most of their victories.  As the weather curtailed cricket considerably during the summer eighteen of Yorkshire’s thirty matches (!!! – ed.) were left drawn, thus preventing them from making their usual strong challenge.”

Eighteen out of thirty matches drawn! They didn’t know they were born in them days.

Things To Do In Radlett When It’s Raining

Well, the first leg of my July ‘Anywhere but Grace Road’ tour was a predictable fiasco.  The first day I’d chosen to watch Middlesex 2nds play Surrey 2nds at Radlett was cancelled so that the Surrey players could attend Tom Maynard’s funeral.  My second attempt on the Friday was rained off – though that didn’t stop me turning up at the ground. I may have something further to say about this in the near future.

But what do the good folk of  Radlett find to do with themselves when it’s raining – other than take photographs of cricket pavilions? If you don’t mind waiting until September, there seems to be something for everyone at the Radlett Centre (‘Tiny Mites at the Seaside‘, I imagine, is a lecture by a marine entomologist).

.

.

.

.

To occupy the long, wet,  summer months, though, this seems to be about it.

(I’m struggling to think of what Sherlock Holmes might have in common with Tony Benn.  Both fictional characters represented by actors?  Both wear deer-stalkers? Cocaine? Both pipe-smokers, I suppose.)

This week it’s onwards to Edgbaston, God help me.

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).

Immersion Edition : Leicestershire v Essex

Leicestershire v Essex ‘Eagles’, CB40, Grace Road, Monday 8th May

Abandoned without a ball being bowled

On Monday, a good-humoured crowd were in Bank Holiday mood (and we all know what that’s like!) for the Foxes’ second game in this year’s CB40 competition.  Many of them had travelled far from the gaudy connurbations and spooky mudflats of Essex, in search of a good afternoon’s entertainment.  Unfortunately, they were to be frustrated, as the match was abandoned without a ball being bowled shortly after 3.30, at which point the crowd dispersed good-humouredly and returned to their gaudy etc., looking forward keenly to another week at work.

But let us look for silver linings in the clouds, and take the opportunity to share some action shots of the star of the season so far, the man who has spent more time on the pitch even than Nick Compton – the man who drives the Blotter.

If you’ve never watched one of these in action before, it really is a most absorbing way to spend the afternoon.  A sort of giant J-cloth on wheels, the Blotter trundles round and round the outfield, its exertions only the more impressive for their sheer futility.  As soon as it has soaked up all the surface water and the driver has reason to think that an hour of sun will dry the pitch enough to allow play to begin, it starts raining again!  But do they give up?  Do they ‘eckers like.

 

But what happens to all the water that’s been blotted?  Well, as we see from this photograph, it is sort of – I’m afraid there’s no other word for it – urinated in the direction of the front row of benches to the right of the pavilion.  If any of the Members still happened to be sleeping off their lunch on one of these seats, they’d be in for a rude awakening.

Of course, human beings are not the only elements in the fragile eco-system of Grace Road, and we must admit that the prevailing weather can only prove beneficial for our colleagues in the floral kingdom.

By the time First Class Cricket resumes in July, we should have a lovely bed of roses alongside the Milligan Road, and I look forward to reporting on them.