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.

 

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A Willow At Radlett, A Spaniel At Hove : My August In Cricket Part One

Middlesex 2nd XI v Hampshire 2nd XI, Radlett, 5th August 2014

Sussex 2nd XI v Gloucs 2nd XI, Hove, 12th August 2014

Radlett Aug 2014

August.  From one point of view, when the season reaches its climax (or a series of climaxes).  We’ve had the climax of the Test series, the knock-out stages of the T20 climaxing at Edgbaston and, for lovers of the traditional one-day form of the game, the Royal London 50 over competition, which is, as I write, building to its climax at Lord’s in September.  As the County Championship has been pretty much in suspension since July, my August has, since my moment of revelation on the Rec, been a bit of an anti-climax, though not without its own subtle jouissances.

I’ve mostly been watching 2nd XI cricket, which is a funny old beast.  Leicestershire take it seriously and usually field a side which is barely distinguishable from their 1st XI.  As a result, we have already won the T20 Cup and are in the Finals of the 50 over and 3-day competitions.  Other counties mostly use it to give players who are out of nick or who aren’t used in one-day cricket a chance to get back into and keep in form, or to have a look at triallists and Academy players.  You might occasionally spot an interesting new talent (such as Sam Hain the other week) or you might, as I did in these two matches, see some competent professionals such as Sean Terry, Joe Gatting and young Tavare (all second generation cricketers) making some untroubled runs against some occasionally ropy bowling.

I don’t think it adds to the would-be 1st teamers’ enjoyment that many of these games are played at club grounds (though it’s a part of the enjoyment for me).  It must seem a bit infra dig for them to have to go back to searching for lost balls in the hedge (as here at Radlett), when you are more used to the satisfying bonk of ball on boundary board at the County Ground.

Lost ball

Lost ball 2

Radlett (as regular readers will know) is a ground that is of particular significance to me ; I pass it every day on the train in and out of work.  When it vanishes into the gloom at the end of October I know Winter is here and when it first reappears in the early morning mists at the end of February my thoughts begin to turn to the hope of a new Season.  In truth it is a pleasant enough ground, in the Home Counties style, though what I’m not aware of when I speed past on the train, is, of course, the noise from the trains speeding past and, less obviously, that it is underneath what I take to be a flight path from Luton Airport to London for light aircraft and helicopters.  At times there were so many of them overhead it was like watching cricket in a scene from Apocalypse Now.

From my train window Radlett is at its best in Autumn (a willow at mid-wicket provides some wonderful effects when losing its colour)

Radlett August 2014

and the first signs were there that it is gearing itself for a spectacular display this year.

Autumn leaves at Radlett

Which will be some consolation, as I’m plunged into darkness once again.

A ground, by contrast, I’d expect to be at its best in August is Hove (or to give it its official title TheBrightonandHoveJob.com County Ground).  Good old Sussex-by-the-sea, a cavalcade of raffish manifestations of the amateur spirit – Fry, Ranji, Gilligan, Dexter, Snow, Imran – all of that and all of them.  And, to give it its due, that spirit is still sensibly lingering somewhere around the ground, but buried pretty deep beneath the spirit of commerce.

As Google will tell you, the ground isn’t so much a cricket ground as a multi-use complex, so complex that it requires a forest of signage to direct you if you’ve come there to want to watch a game of cricket, as opposed to patronising the Italian restaurant or visiting one of the retail outlets or small business units it also houses.

 

 

Hove

Of the main buildings, the neo-Edwardian glamour of the Spen Cama Pavilion (Cama was a mysterious snuff-sniffing Anglo-Indian barrister and property speculator who left the club a huge legacy) is still strong enough to shine through all the advertising hoardings

Spen Cama Hove

the moderne players’ pavilion just about makes it through too (“Never hurt – never fall out” is not, incidentally, some kind of team-building advice, but the slogan of the club’s “official earphone suppliers”)

Hove pavilion

but the charm of the poor old scoreboard and clocktower has sunk completely beneath the gaudy pixels

 

Hove scoreboard

and even C.B. Fry now comes sponsored by Parafix Tapes and Conversions Ltd.

C.B. Fry

In fact, so packed is every nook and cranny of the ground with money-making wheezes that it wouldn’t be too surprising (and quite in keeping with the traditions of the resort) to find they’d set up some sort of bijou brothel round the back of the scoreboard.

But who am I to mock?  Sussex is, as I’m sure they’d rightfully point out, in many ways a model for how a small county can thrive.  They are in Division One (and have been for some years), we are not and not likely to be for the foreseeable future.  They have trophies in recent memory; we have none (except for the T20).  So I suppose I’ll have to hold my nose and look forward to visiting the Pukka Pies Arena and sitting in the George Geary (sponsored by Airfix, Netflix or Durex) Stand.

(One feature of the ground I did warm to was the dog (a spaniel?) who helped the groundstaff when they were trying to clear up after the rain.  I wonder who his sponsor is?)

 

Dog on pitch

 

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.)

I’ve Seen Clouds : June In Cricket

Leicestershire v Derbyshire and Worcestershire, Grace Road, County Championship, June 2014

So, how has June been?  Looking back at the photographs I’ve taken, it seems to have been a very green month (in fact I don’t think I can remember a greener) with some blues and some awesome (in the non American teen sense) cloud formations.  The cricketers seem to have been a detail, more a pretext than a subject.

DSCF6007

But then the cricket itself has become a little predictable.  Leicestershire have now played 8 Championship matches, have won 0, lost 4 and drawn 4.  As suggested by their haul of bonus points (41, more than all but the two top sides, Hampshire and Worcestershire, who have both played one match more) they have not been playing badly.  Four of the top 20 run-scorers in the division come from Leicestershire, as do 2 of the top 20 wicket-takers.  Apart from the first-day fiasco against Kent, they have been on at least equal terms by the end of day 2, and mostly still in the hunt by the end of day 3.  But still we are bottom of the table.

My new routine – to attend on a Sunday and a Tuesday – means that, as there’s been a merciful absence of rain, I generally see the same side bat twice.  Against Derbyshire, it was Leicestershire, against Worcestershire it was the opposition.  In both cases the first day was encouraging.  Against Derbyshire, Leicestershire recovered from 11-3 to 311, in the face of some lively bowling from Footitt and Palladino.  Against Worcestershire, some lively bowling of our own from an all-pace attack removed the top-of-the-tablers for 237.

On the two third days I caught the end of a century from Derbyshire’s no. 8, David Wainwright and then saw him take 5 quick wickets to reduce Leicestershire to 113-6.  A workmanlike cricketer from Pontefract, whose baggy cap gives him the air of a young Gilbert O’Sullivan, he may never before have been cheered off the field twice in a day

DSCF6021

and may never be again.  Against Worcester I saw our all-pace attack struggle on a pitch that was starting to take spin, another century for Daryl Mitchell and a maiden ton for young Tom Fell.  On the last days, in my absence, Derbyshire knocked off the target of 188 for the loss of a single wicket and Ajmal, predictably, took 6-19.  The losing margins were 9 wickets and 234 runs respectively.

So, those are the facts, but what it is to be done?  I don’t know.  It might help if Ronnie Sarwan were to relinquish the Captaincy in favour of Josh Cobb (or, since I don’t know the players well enough to make that kind of judgement, anyone else who has a genuine ambition to Captain a successful Leicestershire side – Rob Taylor, perhaps).  As I write, we have finished on roughly equal terms after the first day against Surrey at the Oval and there really isn’t any good reason why we shouldn’t win that or any other match.  But then reason, as my good friend the Gnome was pointing out just the other day, doesn’t seem to have much to do with it.

The littleness of human existence is an odd lesson to take away from a game of cricket, but then what other opportunities are there in modern life to spend seven hours comparing a spectacle of human striving with the vastness of the vaults of heaven (so to speak)?  And at three in the morning in January, dreaming of Flaming June at the cricket, what is it that I’m thinking of?  Whether Matt Boyce can ever truly establish him at the top of the order, or this?

DSCF6013

or this?

DSCF6005

A Gnome comments:

Gnome 2

Scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren’t you?  Midsummer madness, I calls it …

 

The Last Laugh

This is the poem I had intended posting last weekend to mark the 30th anniversary of John Betjeman’s death, and as an apology for not having written anything else. (WordPress and, apparently, the Internet Watch Foundation had other ideas). The sun had shone, you see, and I had spent the whole weekend watching cricket.

The Last Laugh

I made hay while the sun shone.
My work sold.
Now if the harvest is over
And the world cold,
Give me the bonus of laughter
As I lose hold.

Fairfield Road

Now, of course, it is going to rain all weekend and I shall have no such excuse.  Where are the Internet Watch Foundation when you really need them?

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.

Stump Watch For August 2012

The Stump is fraying slightly at the edges, though undecided which season it’s meant to be.

In the background a King Charles spaniel tries to chase a flock (if that’s the word) of low-flying swifts, providing better entertainment than many of the cricket matches I’ve seen this season.  Perhaps this could be turned into an organised sport?  Perhaps the BBC might even be able to afford to buy the rights to it? I’d tune in.