Stump Watch For June 2012

You may have noticed that this blog has been rather fading away this month.  Your correspondent has – and continues to be – preoccupied with work of the paid variety and the family computer has been occupied for reasons related to the extended GCSE season.

I hope to resume a more normal service next month.  The GCSEs are finished, the immediate work-related pressure should have slackened by then, Leicestershire’s recent victory in the exciting new 8/8 format may have dispersed the miasma of gloom hanging over Grace Road and I’m sure we’re in for a record-breaking July (perhaps even in a Good Way).

But I’m afraid this will have to do for the moment – a slightly premature Stump Watch.  Encouraging, though, that something that so recently looked dead and gone can recover so soon.  I shall endeavour to take it as an example.

A Vision Of All The Cricket Fields In England

The current state of play at Grace Road

Well, that’s it from Grace Road for the time being, so I’ll hand you back to the studio.  We hope to be returning some time next month.

Unless I have mis-read the fixture list, there is no more cricket at Grace Road until a CB40 match on the 14th of July and another on the 22nd.  The next day of Championship cricket (the first since the 8th of June) will be on the 27th of July.  There is a fairly pointless one-day match against the Australians, to prepare them for the upcoming completely pointless series of ODIs and plenty of T20s (5 home and 5 away), with all the home matches being played on weekday evenings.  I couldn’t watch these even if I wanted to.

It isn’t that I dislike T20 cricket per se.  The one match I’ve seen live (on a Sunday afternoon) I quite enjoyed ; as an afternoon out, it wasn’t vastly different to the usual 40-over bunfight.  I can see the argument that it has led to the development of new skills – though I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to feel wild excitement at the bowling of a dot ball or a steer through some non-existent slips.  Even the gimmicks (including, this year, using the X Factor man to announce the players as they come into bat) have, in the domestic game, the make-do-and-mend cheeriness of a village fete.

What I do genuinely hate about T20 (and that’s not too strong a word) is the way that its total dominance of June and July has ruined the County season.

There is a practical aspect to this.  If  Championship cricket is pushed further forwards into April and May there is always a good chance that it will be reduced to a farce by rain.  The last two years the gamble has come off, but this year – as anyone who has watched much of it will attest – has been a thoroughly miserable experience for the spectators, with the sides leading at the half way mark being those who’ve been lucky with the weather and ridden their luck in terms of freak declarations and forfeits.  When it resumes there will be sides whose season is effectively over, and not in all cases through their own fault.

I cannot remember speaking to anyone who watches 4-day cricket regularly who would not prefer to have the T20 competition spread throughout the season – perhaps one a fortnight on Friday nights.  In the world of fantasy, they could spread them around the outgrounds (Grand Twenty Twenty Cricket Match Tonight! All The Fun Of The Fair!).  By doing so, there could be more matches played (and so more revenue) and less chance that a wet June would ruin it.

Why the T20 fixtures are so condensed I genuinely don’t understand.  One argument, I think, is that the players find it hard to switch between different forms of the game.  But they used to be able to cope when 40 over matches were played in the middle of 3 day games, and I’d have thought it was more difficult to readjust to playing Championship cricket after six weeks of T20 than chopping and changing between the two.

Another, I imagine, is that it means the domestic competition does not overlap with any other T20 tournament and so it allows supranational galacticos to jet from tournament to tournament without forming any real affiliation to a particular side.  Neither does it overlap with the football season, and I think it is true that some of the specialist T20 crowd are essentially football fans looking to fill in time between seasons with a quasi-football experience.  (Not that this helps when England are playing in an international competition).

But my real objection goes beyond the practical ones, and that is that by hogging the whole of High Summer T20 has ruined what Mike Selvey (in a poetic moment) called the cadences of the County season.  Everyone could put up with a damp May if there were a full-flowering June to look forward to, and everyone could put up with the dog days of August if there were a flaming July to look back on.

I can’t describe this any better than Neville Cardus did in his great essay ‘The Summer Game’ , so I’ll quote from it instead.  (I suspect the titles of Cardus’s books – Days in the Sun, The Summer Game, Good Days – would be hard for the modern fan to connect with cricket at all.  Days in Front of the Telly and Nights under the Floodlights might be evocative for them.)

“Cricket has the movement of summer in its growth and budding-time.  The game comes to us modestly on spring’s rainy days, and like a plant it turns to the sun and is not happy when an east wind blows.  But as the season passes, cricket begins to flower; by the time hot June is come it is roses, roses all the way from Old Trafford to Canterbury.  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.”

If you sat on the Mound Stand at noon on midummer morning this year (admittedly a Sunday) you’d see no first-class cricket at all (apart from the Varsity match in Oxford), though if you waited until the afternoon you could catch a couple of T20 matches.

Bring it on!

Out Of A Misty Dream Our Path Emerges For A While …

Gone!

So, I suppose we have to admit that the cricket season is over and the football season has begun.

A little known fact – at least I’ve never heard Alan Hansen allude to it on Match of the Day – is that the earliest use of the word “soccer” recorded in the O.E.D. is in a letter from the ‘nineties poet Ernest Dowson, dated 1889:

“I absolutely decline to see socca’ matches” 

The O.E.D. is tantalisingly bare of context – was he, perhaps, more of a rugga’ man? – but it does not appear that (unlike his fellow decadent Francis Thompson) he was very fond of cricket.  The only reference I can find to the game in his letters is the following, written from Bognor –

“I have I fear to be another ten days in this inexpressibly horrid plage – full of English Mlls and Varsity men who play cricket with them on the sands.”   

So not, apparently, an enthusiast. 

Ernest Dowson : Not a Socca' Man

But – once we have sent our little books out into the world – we have no say in how they are used.  So, to me, this – his most famous poem – is about the cricket season.

Fairfield Road in Spring

 

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam

 

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

Love and desire and hate:

I think they have no portion in us after

We pass the gate.

 

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream.

 

Fairfield Road in Autumn

Summer Pleasures They Are Gone …

A little later than usual, a poem for September. 

This rather chose itself.  When I was at the Chesterfield Festival the other week, fielding in front of me on the boundary was Jon Clare, the promising Burnley-born Derbyshire all-rounder.  In September’s issue of The Cricketer, which I happened to be reading at the time, there was an article about Frank Foster, based on the recently published biography by Robert Brooke, entitled The Fields Were Sudden Bare (a line from Remembrances, by John Clare).

Foster captained Warwickshire to their first Championship victory in 1911, but later succumbed to mental illness and died in St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, where, in its previous guise as the County General Lunatic Asylum, Clare had also spent his last years.

This is the first verse of the poem (which is mainly concerned with mourning the consequences of the enclosure of common land, and nothing to do with cricket at all).

.

 Remembrances

Summer pleasures they are gone like to visions every one
And the cloudy days of autumn and of winter cometh on
I tried to call them back but unbidden they are gone
Far away from heart and eye and for ever far away
Dear heart and can it be that such raptures meet decay
I thought them all eternal when by Langley Bush I lay
I thought them joys eternal when I used to shout and play
On its bank at ‘clink and bandy’ ‘chock’ and ‘taw’ and
ducking stone
Where silence sitteth now on the wild heath as her own
Like a ruin of the past all alone.

 

As an illustration of summer pleasures going and almost gone like to visions, here are two snaps of the closing stages of last Sunday’s County Cup final at Grace Road, between Market Harborough and Loughborough (the match of the season, really) …

The first shows Harborough’s Nick O’Donnell facing the last ball from Leicestershire Academy man Tom Wells (as the shadows lengthen), needing 2 to tie the scores and win on the basis of one fewer wicket lost …

    

and, shortly afterwards, two leg byes having been scrambled, the presentation ceremony …

 

Stump Watch for August 2011

Ain’t it funny how time slips away? 

Well, not especially – but here we are at the end of the month once again, and so it’s time for Stump Watch.

It’s not quite visible here, but it was raining gently when I took this photograph.  In the far distance, the eternally optimistic groundsman prepares the wicket for the afternoon’s cricket.

And don’t forget, Stump fans, you can now follow the whole exciting story on the page at the top of this blog!

Enjoy Yourself – It’s Later Than You Think!

Leicestershire 2nd XI v MCCU Universities XI, Kibworth, Thursday 11 August 2011

“The fact that even in the 1750s the vast majority of matches took place in the early part of the summer suggest that enough of the players were farmers or labourers to make it very difficult to raise teams during haymaking (which normally only began in July) or the corn harvest.  At this level cricket was still a peasant game, its timing determined by the agricultural calendar”. – from Start of Play by David Underdown.

Less so these days, of course, and not at all for those who follow cricket via the television, but the coming of the harvest still provides an uncomfortable reminder that the season does not have long to run.  On Thursday it made its point rather too directly for my taste.

This was a rather different Second XI from the one who had featured against Northants.  The first-teamers were gone.  Ned Eckersley (I think – it might have been Dixey) seemed to have got his hands in the gloves.  Rob Taylor, who, earlier in the season, had played for Loughborough against Leicestershire, and seems also to be in the MCC Universities squad, featured.  Taylor (who I’ve just seen play another fine innings for Harborough) looks a great prospect, and has the considerable honour of being the second best player from the Melton area with the surname Taylor between the ages of 20-21.      

The day started brightly (here we see James Sykes bowling from the pavilion End) –

from a neighbouring field there was a distant thrum from a combine harvester

As the day wore on and Leicestershire wore down the students’ resistance the noise grew gradually louder as the harvester worked its way back and forth across the field towards the ground.

A strong wind was blowing from the direction of the wheatfield, and those of us sitting on that side of the boundary began to notice that, with each pass of the harvester, a cloud of dust – fine at first – would puff through the hedge, coating our Playfairs and cups of tea in a chalky film.

As tea approached the players began to look quizzically at the source of these periodic dust storms (stubble burning? surely not rioting?)-

A fieldsman on the boundary pulled his sweater up to cover his nose, eyes were rubbed and throats cleared.  The umpires consulted, but decided that visibility was sufficiently good for play to continue.

As the players left the field for tea (and a good blow of their noses) the harvester made its final pass directly alongside the ground, sending a great blast of dust and tiny ears of wheat through the hedge. 

 By now, even the stoutest amongst us had been forced to take shelter –

Not long now before the dying of the light …

Dry, Sterile Thunder at Grace Road

Leicestershire v Kent, County Championship, Grace Road, 3rd August 2011

 

There is not even silence in the mountains

But dry, sterile thunder without rain”

 

Unfortunately, August isn’t always as attractive as Edward Thomas’s vision of it.  Today at Grace Road the outfield was dry and sterile –

and the day throbbed with catharsis postponed.  Nearby there were the reverberations of dry thunder from further North.  On Saturday the two clubs (though not sides) are due to meet at Grace Road in the quarter finals of the 20/20.

Otherwise the prize on offer is the chance to clamber off the foot of the Championship.  Leicestershire (feeling our way into a possibly Taylorless future) made 257 yesterday, with Kent 47-3 overnight.  The morning was becalmed in the Doldrums, as Van Jaarsveld and Old Fox Darren Stevens put on a listless century partnership.  After lunch there was a sudden gust as Jigar Naik took 5 wickets to bowl Kent out for 219.  Leicestershire finished 186 ahead, wth 5 wickets in hand, and – with the pitch taking spin – may have a chance to chance to register a rare victory before the arrival of the imminent devout drench.

When it does arrive, though, no doubt some now tiny, insignificant seeds will begin to germinate.  He’s neither tiny nor insignificant, but, for the historical record, it’s worth registering that this match was Shiv Thakor’s debut in the County Championship.  Bear that name in mind.             

I was pleased to see, by the way, that Ken Clarke seems to have taken my advice, given up the old Lord Chancellorin’  game and taken up permanent residence at Grace Road (Loakes’s finest kicked off and Playfair in hand).  That must be the way to go, if he has any sense.

 

 

August, by Edward Thomas

Still no sign of a permanent replacement for Helen Hunt Jackson, but, to welcome the new month, here is some prose from a poet.  This is from an essay ‘August’, by Edward Thomas.  It was originally published in the volume ‘The Heart of England’ in 1906. 

“I have found only two satisfying places in the world in August – the Bodleian Library and a little reedy, willowy pond, where you may enjoy the month perfectly, sitting and being friendly with moorhen and kingfisher and snake, except in the slowly recurring intervals where you catch a tench and cast only mildly envious eyes upon its cool, olive sides.  Through the willows I see the hot air quiver in crystal ripples like the points of swords, and sometimes I see a crimson cyclist on a gate.  Thus is “fantastic summer’s heat” divine.  For in August it is right to be cool, and at the same time to enjoy the sight and perfume of heat out of doors.  In June and July the frosts and east winds of May are so near in memory that they give a satisfaction to the sensation of heat.  In September frosts and east winds return.  August, in short, is the month of Nature’s perfect poise, and I should like to see it represented in painting by a Junonian woman, immobile, passionless, and happy in a cool-leaved wood, and looking neither forward not backward, but within.

… here, more than anywhere else, the things that are seen are the least important.  For they are but the fragments of the things that are embroidered on the hem of a great garment, which gathers the clouds and mountains in its folds; and in the hair of the wearer hang the stars, braided and whorled in patterns too intricate for our eyes.  The Junonian woman is a little ivory image of the figure which I think of my the pool.  She is older than the pool and the craggy oak at its edge, as old as the stars.  But to-day she has taken upon herself the likeness of one who is a girl for lightness and joy, a woman for wisdom, a goddess for calm.  Last month she seemed to laugh and dance.  Next month she will seem to have grey in her hair.  To-day she is perfect.” 

Until recently, if I’d fancied sitting by a little reedy, willowy pool I could have made my way down to this one, off the Brampton Valley Way –

Now it’s been fenced off and turned into a private fishing pond.  A little further down, the entrance to a pleasant semi-circular walk alongside the brook (that has featured on this blog before) has been closed off with razor wire.

A pity.

Picnic, July 1917 : Rose Macaulay

I haven’t yet been able to find a permanent replacement for Helen Hunt Jackson as a purveyor of monthly poems, but here is a guest poem for July from Rose Macaulay.  
 
Macaulay was a prolific literary journalist and the author of numerous novels (none of which I’ve read, I’m afraid).  Before the First War, she was a friend of Rupert Brooke’s (he was a pupil of her father’s).  During the war she worked for the British Propaganda Department : after it she was a sponsor of the Peace Pledge Union.  During the Second War, her flat, with all her possessions and her library in it, was destroyed in the Blitz.
 
Virginia Woolf described her – vividly, but unkindly – as:
 
“Too chattery chittery at first go off; lean as a rake, wispy; & frittered. Some flimsy smartness & taint of the flimsy glittery literary about her: but this was partly nerves, I think; & she felt us alien & observant doubtless.”
 
(Which, doubtless, they were.)
 
I suppose the events described here would have been a year after the Battle of Somme.
 
 
Picnic, July 1917 
 
 We lay and ate the sweet hurt-berries
In the bracken of Hurt Wood.
Like a quire of singers singing low
The dark pines stood.
 
Behind us climbed the Surrey Hills,
Wild, wild in greenery;
At our feet the downs of Sussex broke
To an unseen sea.

And life was bound in a still ring,
Drowsy, and quiet and sweet….
When heavily up the south-east wind
The great guns beat.

We did not wince, we did not weep,
We did not curse or pray;
We drowsily heard, and someone said,
‘They sound clear today’.

We did not shake with pity and pain,
Or sicken and blanch white.
We said, ’If the wind’s from over there
There’ll be rain tonight’.

Once pity we knew, and rage we knew,
And pain we knew, too well,
As we stared and peered dizzily
Through the gates of hell.

But now hell’s gates are an old tale;
Remote the anguish seems;
The guns are muffled and far away.
Dreams within dreams.

And far and far are Flanders mud,
And the pain of Picardy;
And the blood that runs there runs beyond
The wide waste sea.

We are shut about by guarding walls;
(We have built them lest we run
Mad from dreaming of naked fear
And of black things done).

We are ringed all round by guarding walls,
So high, they shut the view.
Not all the guns that shatter the world
Can quite break through.

Oh guns of France, oh guns of France,
Be still, you crash in vain….
Heavily up the south wind throb
Dull dreams of pain…..

Be still, be still, south wind, lest your
Blowing should bring the rain……
We’ll lie very quiet on Hurt Hill,
And sleep once again.

Oh we’ll lie quite still, not listen nor look,
While the earth’s bounds reel and shake,
Lest, battered too long, our walls and we
Should break…….should break……….

 

(Making my way to Desborough’s cricket ground last week to watch Leicestershire’s Second XI play Northamptonshire’s, I came across this field of poppies.  A very typical thing in Northamptonshire in late Summer, but, perhaps, a little early in the year?)