Northamptonshire v Hampshire, County Championship, County Ground Northampton, 3rd & 5th May 2012
I must be mad.
I doubt whether there’s anyone who watches any amount of County Cricket who has not – at one time or another – had this thought. Cricket does drive some people mad, but those are generally the players, especially those who feel a need to be in control. This is not an illusion that would survive any extended period of trying to watch the game.
I had originally taken a day off work on the Wednesday of last week to watch the first day of Northants v Hampshire. I then switched it to Thursday to avoid a train strike. Play was possible on Wednesday, but there was heavy rain overnight and a sort of heavy mizzle on Thursday morning. Any sensible – or perhaps sane – person would have admitted defeat and made other plans, but I decided to set off anyway. The forecast was better for the afternoon, and the pitch might have dried out and anyway I had nothing else to do.
When I arrived at the ground, the gatemen warned me that the umpires had announced a pitch inspection at 2.00, which gave me three hours to wait.
I read the paper, browsed the books in the Supporters’ Club bookshop, bought a copy of Graham Yallop’s account of the 1978-9 Ashes series (a bravura exercise in whingeing) and ate some lunch. Good as their word, the Umpires emerged at 2.00 to announce another inspection at 3.00.
To pass the time, I wandered over the road to the Abingdon Park Museum. Between 1845-1892 this housed a private Lunatic Asylum run first by Thomas Octavius Prichard and then later his cousin. Prichard had previously been in charge of the Northampton Asylum and was known for pioneering an enlightened approach to the treatment of mental illness. He believed that the patients would benefit from an environment where “all excitement is as much as possible avoided” and stressed the “general prevalence of order and quiet”.
The inmates were allowed out of the Asylum and encouraged to attend musical entertainments. As the first match was played at the County Ground in 1886, I wonder if it’s possible that some of them were also allowed out to watch the cricket? I feel it would have done them a lot of good, and been quite in keeping with Prichard’s principles.
When I returned at three the Umpires seemed to have reneged on their promise to have another inspection (in fact, I suspect they’d gone home) and, at this point, I called it a day. There were still not a few people who’d spent the whole day sitting quietly in the Turner Suite who must have known as well as I did that the chances of play were minimal. Most of them, I suspect, spend all day every day at the Ground during the season, seeking refuge from who knows what.
I’d pretty much written the match off, except that, when I woke on Saturday, the sky was blessedly clear, and a glance at the overnight scores suggested that a tight finish might be on the cards. So I returned.
Northants batted on a little in the morning before declaring, leaving Hampshire 297 to win in 71 overs. On paper, Hampshire look to have one of the stronger batting line ups in the division – three players (Carberry, Katich and Irvine) with Test experience plus the promising Vince – but on a lively pitch against some sharp bowling, and in freezing conditions they didn’t – in footballing parlance – seem to fancy it very much.
Northants opened the bowling with England Lions poster boy Jack Brooks and David Willey (son of Peter). Willey is tall, muscular and currently unsubtle with a long run up and long blond hair. Bowling in tandem with the equally heavy metal-locked but dark Brooks it looked as though the County were employing Cheap Trick as their opening attack. Both wore hair bands, which might not have been true of – say – past Northants quicks such as Bert Nutter or John Dye.
Sean Terry brought back memories of his father Paul by sustaining a couple of nasty blows and quickly departed along with his opening partner Liam Dawson. Carberry looked relatively comfortable and might have made victory a possibility if he could have found anyone to stay with him.
Katich – who looked reluctant to emerge from the pavilion – made a dutiful 31, but didn’t seem too upset to be returned to the hutch, caught behind off the perpetually underestimated Lee Daggett. Daggett, who looks like the kind of bloke you’d be relieved to see coming to mend one of your radiators, then removed Vince (for 0) and Irvine in quick succession, and when Carberry was trapped in front by the rampant Willey it looked as through only a snowstorm could save them.
There was a brief flurry during the tea interval, but not enough to interrupt play, and they folded shortly afterwards for 179, Willey taking 5-39.
There was a reasonable crowd to watch all this, though most of them watched it through the windows of the Turner Suite, where – though it is warm and chips are plentiful – the view is a little restricted. One exception was the man whose shirt announces that he is the Steelbacks’ No. 1 Fan, who had, as usual, set up a little rats’ nest of plastic bags and lashed his home-made standard to the boundary fence.
This standard has a Tyrollean cowbell attached to it that tinkles like wind chimes when there is a breeze and which he rings furiously whenever a wicket falls. Otherwise he shuffles slowly around the pitch offering obscure advice to the empty air and – when the opportunity presents itself – the players (here he is in conversation with Willey)
Ricardo is clearly someone who dances – or shuffles – to the beat of a different drum. He spent a lot of the afternoon picking dandelions from the boundary edge and placing them neatly on all of the seats in the front row of the stands. The logic of this is not obvious, but perhaps – as Northants won – he’d be a damn’ fool if he didn’t.
For the closing stages he and I were the only occupants of this stand. But there is a difference between mild eccentricity and outright madness, you know. Oh yes there is.