In Search Of The Spirits of Cricket : A Short “Film” Of The 2014 Cricket Season

Parturient montes et exit … well, something a bit different anyway (though I suspect that this is one of those that means a great deal to me but will be found puzzling, at best, by others).

It is, as you will see if you click on the link below, a slideshow of a selection of photographs taken during the 2014 English cricket season, beginning in March and ending in late September.  Some of the images will be familiar to regular readers, others not. This is cricket from a spectator’s point of view, as opposed to the television viewer’s; there are no close-ups, no replays, no video analysis.  The players are only seen close-to when they are leaving the field or near the boundary and they sometimes seem to be there merely to provide some foreground to a landscape. There are trains and buses and flowers and rainbows.  It didn’t occur to me to make use of the photographs in this way until very late in the season, and I have resisted the temptation to do any artistic re-shaping of the material, so any themes and motifs (and I think there are some) have emerged, at most, semi-consciously.

The grounds that feature most often are (as you might expect) Grace Road, the County Ground Northampton, Fairfield Road (home of Market Harborough CC) and Little Bowden Recreation Ground.  There are also visits to Kibworth, Trent Bridge, Finedon Dolben, Leicester Ivanhoe, Bedford Modern School, Radlett Hove and Lubenham.

Some well-known players feature: M.S. Dhoni, Alastair Cook (in the form of a Waitrose advert), Marcus Trescothick.  There are some perhaps less well-known, except to readers of this blog: Graeme White (who begins and ends the season wandering in the outfield stroking his beard), Ned Eckersley, Nathan Buck, David Wainwright, Luke Fletcher, Stan of Barrow Town.  Bowler of the season Mark Footitt is featured in action; batsmen of the season Lyth’n’Lees appear on a scoreboard.  There are glimpses of some stars of the future (Sam Hain, Zac Chappell) and guest appearances from Dickie Bird, Peter Willey, a dog and a horse.  Then there are those players who are known only unto God and their nearest and dearest, and if they sometimes blend in indistinguishably with their better-known counterparts then – without wishing to labour the point – that is largely the point of this “film”.

I had originally intended to accompany the images with music, but have been defeated by a combination of the laws of copyright and technical ignorance, however those who persist until the last four minutes will be rewarded by a brief piece by Delius.  I realise this is likely to be a vain plea, but, rather like the season itself, the “film” does take a while to get into its stride: it becomes a lot more interesting after the first ten minutes and only really makes sense if watched in its entirety.  It also helps to view it in full-screen mode on a reasonably large screen.  Ideally, of course,  it would be seen at an I-Max cinema accompanied by a live orchestra, but that might have to wait for next season’s production.

(Don’t let this put you off, by the way, but your correspondent makes a cameo appearance in a glass case in the gents round the back of the pavilion at Trent Bridge at 22.08. Immortality, at last!)

 

Any comments most welcome, of course.

 

Hope Springs Eternal : #goodtimes at Grace Road and Fairfield Road

This is tempting fate, and I’ve resisted saying it before, but it has to be said: there has been a good feeling around Grace Road this April.  This ought to go without saying.  Why would there not be a good feeling at any cricket club in April (apart from in the “England camp“, where, presumably, the atmosphere is one of introspection and paranoia, as Cook and Moores – poor sods – “hammer out their values“)?  The slate is still clean, all things are still possible and there is pleasure still to be had in speculating on what might be (if, if only) as opposed to what might have been.  And, of course, at Grace Road, as at any self-respecting ground, the flowerbeds in front of the pavilion are in full bloom.

Grace Road in April

Grace Rd in April 2

Leicestershire’s delayed entry into the Championship (the sad postponement of the Derby game meant that they did not play a competitive game until 20th April) has, I think, helped not only to recall echoes of yesteryear (when it was all but impossible for a side to be out of the running by the end of May) but meant that they have arrived on the scene in at least second gear.  Following on from two friendly matches for the First XI and two (apparently hard-fought) intra-club matches, the Second XI friendly against Derbyshire was used to give most of the prospective First XI another runout.

This blog can, in passing, now claim to span two generations.  In the first post I wrote about cricket one of the few players I mentioned by name was Dominic Cork.  Opening the bowling for Derbyshire 2s in this match was his son, 19-year-old Greg (or Gregory Teodor Gerald, to give him his full name).  He is another left-armer (so, no doubt, someone will soon be proposing him as England’s answer to Mitchell Johnson).  Another left-armer is Rob Taylor, who, in April 2009, was turning out mainly for Harborough and threatening the homeowners of Fairfield Road with the fury of aerial bombardment as an opening batsman.  Since then he has progressed through the 2nds of both Leicestershire and Northants, Loughborough MCCU and Leicestershire’s 1-day side to international recognition with Scotland.  I have always seen him as much as a batsman as a bowler and I was delighted to see him given the chance to prove me right with 164* against Derbyshire (less good news, though, for the homeowners and insurers of Milligan Road).

Taylor and Freckingham

Taylor being given the chance to show what he can do with the bat would be one of the “if onlies” I spoke of earlier.  Others would include Smith and Boyce putting on 100 for the first wicket, Eckersley maintaining last season’s form, Josh Cobb at last finding some way of integrating his 1-day style into his 4-day cricket, Jigar Naik avoiding self-inflicted injuries in the field and Charlie Shreck having some kind of extended Indian Summer, in the style of Richardson or Chapple.  Some enterprising Captaincy would help too.

Almost miraculously, it now seems, all of these hopes were fulfilled in the first home match against Glamorgan.  Leicestershire made 500 in their first innings for the first time that I can remember since that glorious day at the Oval when James Taylor milked Andre Nel and his strutting cronies to the tune of a double hundred.

500

Shreck looked sharper than I remember him appearing at Kent, Naik (I’m told) was threatening on the fourth day and emerged from the match unscathed and Captain Cobb demonstrated some awareness of the need for quick scoring and shrewd declarations if 16 points for a win are to be achieved.

It seems a shame to allow facts to cast a shadow so early in the season, but it is true that we haven’t actually won a match yet.  Bowling the opposition out twice quickly may prove difficult (which is why the art of the strategic declaration assumes such importance).  Ronnie Sarwan (the official Captain) hadn’t made it to England in time for the first two matches. He will, no doubt, contribute runs; let us hope he also provides decisive leadership.  It is also true, alas, that, if what we are seeing is the coming to ripeness of the group of young players whose fortunes I have been following over the last five years, then ripeness may well (as the poet hath it) be all.  The contracts of Cobb, Eckersley and Thakor (amongst others) are up at the end of the Season and it may, unfortunately, be other Counties who reap what we have sewn.  But enough of such dark thoughts.  There is a good feeling at Grace Road for now and that has been rare enough in recent times.

jigar naik

And not only at Grace Road.  Harborough have (in circumstances I am not privy to) lost seven senior players since last season and are facing the new campaign with a team much younger even than Leicestershire, their totem and stalwart Kevin Innes unable to contribute with the ball and unable, the Saturday before last, to put out a 2nd XI.  But necessity (to resuscitate another old cliche) can be the mother of innovation and they took the field against a muscular and much-fancied Syston side last Saturday with one seamer (celebrating his 17th birthday) and four youthful spinners.  Suicidal so early in the season?  Well, not if you have a hand in preparing the wicket and Kevin Innes can still bat.  We won shortly after 7.00, as the sun set behind the Pavilion.

victory at fairfield rd

In August these early evening sunsets and lengthening shadows provoke bitter-sweet thoughts of “dying falls” and ever-encroaching Winter.  In Maytime, though, evenings can (to paraphrase somebody or other) only get lighter and – my word – don’t you bet poor Moores and Cook wish they were young again and heading off for a few barely legal beers in the clubhouse after a famous victory rather than bracing themselves for a shellacking from the Press (not to mention the cats’ chorus on Twitter) after an indifferent display against Scotland?  Still wish Rob “Roy” Taylor the best of luck, though.

 

Welcome to orthans icket

Northamptonshire v Yorkshire, County Ground, Pre-season friendly, 8th April 2014

Sadly (this is becoming something of a theme) I was not at Leicester on Tuesday to watch the postponed game against Derbyshire and I’m not at Wantage Road today to watch the first match of Northants’ season against Durham.  Leicestershire no longer have a reciprocal membership agreement with Northants and, in these times of austerity, £14.00 entrance plus £9.00 bus fare means I shall have to be more selective in my visits to the County Ground.  Which is a shame, because I’m rather fond of the old place.

I was pleased to see that the new 20/20 slogan “Glory, Honour, Pride” (which sounds too much like some dubious East European political grouping to my ears) was not much in evidence.  I’ve never been that fond of “Steelbacks” either, come to think of it, and wonder whether “Welcome to orthans icket : Home of County” (which is how most refer to them) might not be more appropriate to the spirit of Northamptonshire cricket.

 

Orthans icket

It’s always a good principle that you can’t play cricket seriously without the proper kit (there is really nothing worse than being clouted round the ground by a bloke in black trousers and a  New York Yankees cap) and it was an indication that Yorkshire weren’t going to be going all out when they took to the field in wooly hats.  The effect varied. Jack Brooks, who, under all the hair, has a rather rural face, looked Compo-esque; the ever-stylish Moin Ashraf, in a nod to Ali G., teamed his with some wraparound sun-goggles.

Moin Ashraf

The day was bright, but perishingly cold.  We spectators could keep out of the wind by flattening ourselves against the hoardings like bugs against a windscreen but for those on the pitch there was no escape.  The sensible policy seemed for both sides to concentrate on getting through to the start of the season proper without pulling a muscle or fracturing a frozen digit.  Jack Brooks bowled off six paces, Ashraf was more aesthetic than energetic and Middlebrook and Kettleborough (two villages in Last of the Summer Wine Country) compiled their runs at the rate of a man collecting a part-work history of World War 2.

This seeming not-too-much-aggression pact, however, reckoned without Liam Plunkett, who, after a restrained start, began to bowl in the manner familiar from his Test appearances, fastish, with the occasional nasty lifter and some wild stuff down the legside.  One of the former broke the finger of Rob Keogh and one of the latter evened up the score by doing the same for his own wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow.

 

Johnny Bairstow

Even allowing for the relative talents of the players, this will have been a bigger blow to Northants than Yorkshire.  It is going to be a long, attritional, old season, with the constant distraction of 20/20 on Friday evenings and Northants do not have a big squad.  On the other hand Yorkshire’s squad is, as Jack Brooks observed in this week’s Cricket Paper

“Unbelievably strong … the important thing is the depth: take out all the England players, Tim Bresnan, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance, and it doesn’t weaken the team.”

It’s a slightly unfortunate side-effect of this strength that one or two potential internationals might be tempted to move counties to gain the proper recognition.  Alex Lees is not guaranteed a first-team place (he was left out last season in favour of Kane Williamson), Moin Ashraf is rarely seen in the Championship and Azeem Rafiq (who is a better bowler than most being suggested to succeed Graeme Swann) is rarely selected ahead of Adil Rashid.

Rashid, it has to be said, has recently been in the team more for his batting than his bowling, which has degenerated into something of a joke.  In this match, though, he was given a long spell (perhaps to avoid any more broken fingers) and, after a couple of overs of the familiar dross he seemed, as the wind dropped and he donned a proper Yorkshire cap, to be recovering some of his old brio.  There was turn and lift and flight where once there were full tosses, he fretted less and strutted more.  I’m tempted to wish him well for an England recall, but then – with the way things are – I’m equally tempted, for his sake, to hope that he can avoid the nod of doom and play out his days for a happy and victorious Yorkshire.

(I’m not a great fan of floodlights at cricket grounds when employed for their proper purpose, by the way, but I can’t deny that they have added something to the variations as the shadows fall across the pitch as the summer progresses and recedes.  Wantage Road won’t see a sight quite like this at teatime for a while.)

 

 

Floodlight

 

A Start To The Season (Of Sorts)

Leicestershire v Northamptonshire, Grace Road, Pre-Season Friendly, 1st April 2014

Well, here’s an early lesson in not looking too far ahead, not to mention gathering rosebuds while I may, carpe-ing the diem and so on.  I have not spent the day, as I had predicted, at Grace Road watching the first day of the County Championship because the match against Derbyshire has been postponed, following the death of the Derbyshire wicket-keeper’s father in a car crash.

I did, however, make it there for the first day of the Friendly against Northants, which, following my new policy of lowered expectations, I would have to say was pleasant enough.  By 11.30 Leicestershire were 16-2 as usual, all was right with the world and it was if the close season had been but a bad dream.  I won’t dwell for too long on the century by new signing Dan Redfern (new signings have flattered to deceive too often before) or allow myself to speculate  that if we could find a settled and solid opening pair and a true strike bowler we would have a decent side (true though that might be).

I would observe that Northants, with last season’s match winner Trent Copeland back in Australia, his replacement Jackson Bird and Alex Wakely already out for the season, and David Willey still sidelined with a lower back injury (a pain in the arse for any seamer, as I know from experience) may struggle.  Maurice Chambers could be bowling an awful lot of overs and on this showing quite a fewof them could end up deposited over cow corner.

But here’s one to watch, or at least one who’s hard to avoid watching if he’s fielding in front of you and a trend to keep an eye on for the coming season.  “The Cricket Paper” led this week on the state of Ned Eckersley’s beard, which he claims he grew “out of boredom” during a five month stay in Australia over the Winter.  The story is accompanied by a photograph which makes him look a little like Ashurbarnipal, the late Emperor of the Assyrians.

As any major dude will tell you, this hirsuteness has been in fashion among the cognoscenti for some time now, and looks poised to make a big impact on this year’s County Championship.  We could see more beards on show than in the early ’80s heyday of Peter Willey, Mike Gatting and Dave Podmore.  Aside from Eckersley, Northants slow left armer Graeme White, returning home after a spell with Nottinghamshire, has adopted a look half way between David Beckham and a young King George V.  He has two poses in the field (which is where he spends most of his time) – one with his hands in his pockets

 

Graeme White 1

and the other stroking his beard.

 

Graeme White 2

This gives the impression that he is deep in thought, ruminating on cunning plans for the batsmen when he is brought on to bowl, but I suspect the truth is that his beard has reached the stage where it itches like fury and he is either scratching it or keeping his hands in his pockets to stop him doing so.

I shall follow his progress with interest and will be interested to see whether the beard is still there come September.  My money’s against it.

 

The Last Of Winter

Another instead-of-a-post post, I’m afraid.

This is the last week I shall (weather permitting) have no live cricket to write about.  Leicestershire are beginning their season with a very “soft launch” involving a 2-day friendly against Northamptonshire on Tuesday and I hope to be there.  This time next week I shall be having the novel (and not entirely welcome) experience of watching the first day of a Championship match on a Sunday.  Whether I will find the time or inclination to write about these I know not.  The prospects for Leicestershire, this blog and Yours Truly are uncertain at present and I don’t think I’ve ever approached a season (or a Spring) with lower expectations.

But perhaps that is for the best.  I am conscious of expecting far too much from cricket and if I do happen to be Surprised by Joy at any point during the season that will be more than the sane man could reasonably expect.

Meanwhile, as the clocks go forward, a last look back at Winter and another view across the Cemetery at a tea-time post-match sunset (this time after a 6-0 home defeat by AFC Rushden and Diamonds).  I don’t want to tempt fate, but I’m not sure even Leicestershire will be able to top that one in the ignominy stakes.  But then they never fail to surprise me, one way or another.

 

Northampton Road Cemetery March 2014

 

“Tell Me If The Woodbines Blow” : Winter into Spring

No time for proper blogging today – alas! – but here is a snapshot of Winter passing into Spring (as I make other plans).  This is the view of Market Harborough cemetery from Northampton Road on my way back from the Rugby, last Saturday and this.  It will be Autumn before the sun is at this angle at that time again and the quality of the light will be quite different.

Northampton Road Cemetery March 2014

Northampton Road Cemetery March 2014

Northampton Road Cemetery March 2014

The inscription on the large headstone to the right of the picture is from Tennyson (Alfred, not Lionel) and reads

Then let wise Nature work her will,

And on my clay her darnels grow,

Come only when the days are still,

And at my head-stone whisper low,

And tell me if the woodbines blow.

I wonder how many passers-by have paused to read this over the years (and how many of them have been able to answer the question?).

Will Flowers Be In Place At The Start Of The Season?

Some Big Questions to be answered in Big Cricket when the new season starts.  Should Flower stay – or should he go?  Should KP go – or should he stay?  Should Cook … well you get the idea, and you probably have some answers.

But, noticing today that the cherry blossom is already in bloom around the bowling green

DSCF3914

and catching a glimpse of the scoreless but sunlit scoreboard at Fairfield Road through a gap in the hedge

DSCF3910

some other questions occur to me.

Will the mild Winter mean that the sycamores and silver birches at Grace Road will be in leaf (unusually) for the start of the Season?  Will the daffodils in the beds in front of the Pavilion be in bloom?  Will there be a fine sheen of pollen on the outfield at Fairfield Road?

And I find I care far more about the second set of questions than the first.