The Spirit Is Weak

An interesting and varied August so far, with glimpses of the Spirit of Cricket as far afield at Radlett and Hove.  I shall report shortly (or perhaps, given that, in the Winter, I have more time and no cricket to watch, less shortly).  I did try (honestly)  to write about yesterday’s game at Grace Road between Leicestershire and Surrey, but realised that I was boring even myself so, frankly, I gave up.

Instead, here are a couple of interim Spirit of Cricket Awards.  Firstly to this splendid man (perhaps a Surrey fan) who spent the day happily absorbed in doing something or other with this strange box-like contraption, made out of painted cardboard and sticks. It appeared to be a scoring device of his own invention, or perhaps some kind of home-made orgone accumulator but, whatever it was, it seemed to be giving him great pleasure.  I salute his achievement in the face of what was a very dull match.


Man with box

My second award goes to this opening batsman.  Scenting a score against some moderate bowling he is trying to persuade the opposing Captain to resume play in driving rain.  Happily for him, play resumed shortly afterwards.  Unhappily, he was soon out.


Little Bowden Rec Aug 2014

It’s a funny old game, you know, cricket.

In Next Year’s Exciting Episode … : My Season Ends At The Oval

Surrey v Yorkshire, County Championship, Oval, 27th September 2013

So, officially the end – the last day of the last first-class match of the season, though it proved to be less of a climax, or even an anti-climax, than a sort of coda, or like one of those novels where the publisher tries to interest you in a sequel by appending its first chapter to the end of the book in hand.

When I originally made plans to attend this game, it seemed highly likely that Yorkshire would be confirmed as Champions and Surrey relegated by the end of it.  Since then Yorkshire have been beaten by eventual winners Durham and failed to make up quite enough ground in their other games to overtake them.  Surrey, though, have indeed been relegated.  Both matters were decided by the penultimate round of games, so if I was hoping to witness any scenes of wild jubilation or bitter disappointment I was to be disappointed myself.

I would have enjoyed seeing Yorkshire celebrating a Championship.  I would not, though, have travelled to London specifically to see Surrey relegated, which would have been aa exercise in shadenfreude too far.  There is, though, no avoiding the fact that their demotion has been the occasion for a fair amount of hilarity and general rejoicing around the County circuit.  I suppose this unfortunate juxtaposition rather illustrates the general view of them:

Cash Machines

The current wave of hostility (not that they have ever been very popular) stems from their habit of using their supposedly vast wealth to asset-strip smaller clubs of players such as Tremlett (Hampshire), Davies, Solanki and Batty (Worcestershire), Maynard (Glamorgan), Lewis (Gloucestershire) and (if he can be called an asset at the age of 39) Keedy of Lancashire.  This season they have excelled themselves by acquiring galacticos Graeme Smith and Ricky Ponting to add to the largely theoretical KP and descended into complete self parody by signing Hashim Amla on a short-term contract in a desperate bid to avoid relegation.  Their uncertainty over their future direction is hinted at by the timeline of Surrey history along one of the walls at the Oval, which peters ominously out with the appointment of Rory Hamilton-Brown as Captain in 2010, before disappearing into a gate:

Surrey timeline

All of which is a little unfair.  The old character of the Oval has just about survived the attempt to turn the ground into a kind of Australo-American megastadium: whereas Lord’s sometimes feels like an enchanted kingdom entire unto itself, the Oval, with its ambient music of traffic, aeroplanes and the babble of the playground from Tenison’s School stills tastes entirely of London life and, since I was last there, the view beyond the gasometer has gained a couple of significant additions:

Gasometer, Shard etc

The squad too has some young scions of Surrey – Burns, Dunn, Edwards and Harinath would all have had birth qualifications to satisfy Lord Harris, as does the 18-year-old Dominic Sibley (born in Epsom and educated at Whitgift), who created the main story of the match by becoming the youngest ever double centurion in First-Class Cricket (which, needless to say, I missed).  Whereas at Leicester the talk is all of the need to supplement our young home-grown players with some imported experience, the feeling at Surrey seems to be in the opposite direction, and I had the sense that Sibley’s exploits have sent the Surrey contingent away with more hope in their hearts for next season than regret for the season just passed.

Sibley was out shortly before I arrived on the Friday and Surrey declared soon after to leave Yorkshire 200 to avoid an innings defeat.  Lyth, Lees and Jacques were all out quickly to a mixture of some early September morning movement from Linley and Dunn and some last game absent-mindeness to leave Yorkshire on 21-3.  I thought, at this point, that I would be back at St. Pancras shortly after lunch, but some steady batting by Kane Williamson and a bold counter-attack by Bairstow took them to within sight of safety at 133-5, at which point Gary Ballance (who had already scored one century in the match) took over and steered Yorkshire through with a second and – as far as I can remember – chanceless hundred.  It is hard to know what to say about Ballance’s batting, which is in no way distinctive, except that he has no obvious weaknesses, played seam and – for most of the afternoon – the spin of Ansari and Batty with equal ease and appears to be a model of discipline and solidity, while having the ability to cut loose with a display of physical power when required (as he did with three boundaries in an over off Ansari to reach his century).

It was hard not to make a comparison with Bairstow’s flawed skittishness and, given that Bairstow must suspect that he is about to be supplanted at no. 6 in the England side by his team-mate, it was rather poignant that he was the first to embrace him as he left the field:

Ballance and Bairstow

Whether Geoff Boycott would have been quite so tactile if he had suspected – say – Brian Close was about to take his place in the England side I doubt.  And what “Ticker” Mitchell would have made of all this kissing and cuddling in the Yorkshire ranks doesn’t bear thinking about.

So, there we are.  Yorkshiremen can congratulate themselves on a fine season, and tell themselves that they would have won the Championship if they hadn’t had so many England calls.  Surrey members can retire to Guildford, down a few gins and dream of a new, Sibley-inspired, Golden Age.  England “fans” can look forward to hearing of robust resistance from the middle order in Australia in the small hours of December.  I hope to be back next year.  Winter well, one and all.

I realised, looking back at the photographs I’d taken of the match, that I’d inadvertently made a cameo appearance in one of them myself.  So here I am.  Looking forward or looking back? Hard to say.


Two Sessions And A Funeral : My July In Cricket

When cricketers keep a diary of the season and they’ve hit a real low it is traditionally indicated by the words “No entry”.  I’m tempted to try the same approach, but – for the record – here is a brief account of my attempts to watch cricket in the month of July 2012 (“The year without a Summer”).

Middlesex 2nd XI v Surrey 2nd XI , Radlett

The fascination of Radlett for me is that it’s the first ground I can see from the train on my journey into work when the darkness begins to lift at the end of February.  It seems to offer hope that the Winter is ending and Summer cannot be far away.  Ha!

I had two alternative days pencilled in for this visit.  The first was postponed so that the Surrey players could attend Tom Maynard’s funeral. The second offered just enough hope of play to make the journey worthwhile (there was a spell of bright sunshine between Wellingborough and Bedford) but by the time I arrived it was the familiar wet pitch/thin drizzle scenario.  I cut my losses and spent the afternoon in St Albans Cathedral instead.

On the two days I didn’t attend there seems to have been quite a decent game.  I note that Surrey’s 2nd XI seam attack (Jon Lewis, Tim Linley and Chris Jordan) would give Leicestershire’s first choice bowlers a run for the money.

There are actually two grounds and two pavilions there (the one visible from the train is the reserve ground) and I see from this week’s Cricketer Magazine that Middlesex are specifically developing it as a ‘base away from London‘ with ‘state-of-the-art gym, physiotherapy room, dressing room and first-class quality grass pitches’.  How the other half live, eh?

This is the main pavilion –

and this the one on the reserve ground –

Warwickshire v Sussex, Edgbaston, County Championship

It’s always seemed odd that I’ve never made it to Edgbaston, given how close it is – as the crow flies – to where I live.  But then the crow wouldn’t have to take the train to New Street (dread station!) or pay to get in.  In any case, there was so much rain that I didn’t even bother setting off.

Leicestershire v Worcestershire, Grace Road, CB40

This CB40 match had been cunningly slipped in on a Saturday afternoon, but they didn’t quite succeed in throwing me off the scent and I managed to catch the first and worst half of it (the start was delayed until 3.15).  There was some decent batting from the Pears’ Phil Hughes (who didn’t look as unorthodox as I’d expected) and Moeen Ali (who makes Hashim Amla look like he’s sporting a bit of five’o’clock shadow)

but what caught my eye was the performance in the field of the Foxes’ bargain basement acquisition Mike Thornley.

Thornley (nickname ‘The Major’) was released by his first county (Sussex) but given a second chance by appearing for the Unicorns.  Since being picked up by Leicestershire he’s impressed with the bat but I didn’t realise he bowled as well.  He is old – at 25 – by the standards of the current Foxes squad but – in the field – looks rather like a reincarnation of Charles Palmer (though I don’t think he wears glasses).  He bowls the kind of military medium that you’d expect to see from someone who used to be quite useful in his youth turning over his arm in the Parents’ Match and doesn’t seem to have got the memo about the need for athleticism in the field for the modern multi-dimensional cricketer.  I have hopes of seeing him bowling lobs before the season’s out.

In the second – and better – half of the match, which I missed, Leicestershire won, thanks to a century from Ronnie Sarwan and some hitting at the finish from Harborough’s own Rob Taylor.  With Josh Cobb now installed as the one-day Captain, hopes are rising for this very young side – if, of course, they can ignore the waggling of cheque-books (or credit cards, I suppose, in today’s money) from the region of Trent Bridge.

Northamptonshire v Glamorgan, Wantage Road, County Championship

Having watched one session of a CB40 match on the Saturday I followed it up with one session of a Championship match on the Sunday afternoon.  This seemed to have been cut-and-pasted from another season altogether or possibly another era.  In bright sunshine, promising youngster Rob Newton and blaster from the past David Sales progressed to almost simultaneous centuries against some woeful Glamorgan bowling.

(Interesting to see – by the way – that Roy Virgin has branched out into running health clubs.)

Sales is a fine batsman (think Rob Key-cum-Ali Brown) who, if it hadn’t been for a series of injuries and possibly the arrival of Duncan Fletcher, would surely have been given a chance by England.  Last season he averaged in the low teens and finished bottom of the Northants’ batting averages and most experienced judges (including those at Wantage Road) would not have expected to see much more of him.  But here he was rolling back the years and looking a fine prospect.  I see from The Cricketpaper that he has been ‘given permission to circulate his details to other counties’ and I hope some of them had their spies at Wantage Road.  Probably too old for Nottinghamshire, though.

Derbyshire v Yorkshire, Queen’s Park, Chesterfield, County Championship

If I had to sit at a cricket ground and watch a series of pitch inspections I suppose it would be Queen’s Park.  Everything was in place – the sun reflecting off the marquee –

the sound of children’s laughter from the playground –

the merry whoop-whoop of the miniature railway, some optimistic signs

the only thing missing was the cricket, which was abandoned shortly before 2.00, with a ritualised series of handshakes on the balcony –

I should have known something was up when there was no-one there to charge admission on the gate – though I saw that one thrifty couple (from Yorkshire, presumably) were taking no chances and had set up their deck chairs outside the perimeter fence.

So, on to August, when I’m planning to …

But, if you want to make the Gods of Cricket laugh, write about your plans on your blog.

Lowly Worms Crushed Underfoot

Leicestershire v Surrey, CB40, Grace Road, 21st August 2011 

“Q.  Which counties do you least like visiting?

A.  Leicester because the away dressing room is tiny and the stairs are steep and particularly annoying.” – James Harris in September’s Cricketer

The stairs are steep? Perhaps we should install a Stannah Stairlift for you?

Elsewhere in this month’s County Roundup, Essex’s Top Man is Old Fox David Masters, for taking 8 for 10 against Leicestershire at Southend, and 5 for 67 against us at the start of July. 

The Bottom Line?

 “It was only Leicestershire”. 

I thought this match cast some doubt on the theory I heard aired on TMS last week that England’s vigorous warm-up routine had been indicative of their superior will to win.

Surrey opted for a few desultory throw-downs, whereas Leicestershire had what looked like the whole squad out on the pitch making the world’s biggest cat’s cradle

Surrey batted first, and there was a brief spark of hope for Fox-fanciers as James Taylor ran out Rory Hamilton-Brown in the first over with a smart bit of fielding.  What came next at least answered the question “Is Jason Roy any good?”.  On this showing, the answer is a definite Yes, to the tune of 131 out of a total of 292-6. 

Roy, who has the splendid on-field nickname of Roy, is the very model of a modern England cricketer, having being born in Durban in 1990 and come to England at the age of ten.  I’d say he’s taking his place in the orderly queue forming behind James Taylor for a slot in the England batting line-up.

When Leicestershire made their response, Rory H-B showed himself to be a proactive captain by opening the bowling with slow left-armer Zafar Ansari (that man again!).  I thought, at the time, this must have been because he’d worked out that the strength of Leicestershire’s top three (Cobb, Du Toit and Jefferson) lies in using the pace of the fast bowlers against themselves. 

As the afternoon wore on, I wondered whether it wasn’t more that he had noticed that the light was deteriorating rapidly, and calculated that his quicker bowlers would be too difficult to see by 5.30.  If so, he was correct.  Leicestershire were dismissed for 151 in 25 overs, Jade Dernbach taking 4-7 as the murk deepened.

So, Leicestershire conclude their CB40 campaign, having played 12, won 2, lost 8, with one no result and one match abandoned.  At least we’re only second to bottom of the group (unless Scotland can beat Hampshire over the weekend).

In another worrying development, I see that “lowly” seems to have attached itself to Leicestershire as an indivisible epithet in the same way that “diminutive” has  to James Taylor, as in this comment from Vic Marks in Saturday’s Guardian –

“The diminutive Taylor … remains at the forefront of the selectors’ minds, even though he plays for lowly Leicestershire – at the moment.”

Perhaps we should think about replacing dear old Charlie Fox as our mascot –

Bye-bye Charlie!

with this loveable little character –

Mind you, Saturday sees the finals of the 20/20, when perhaps the Lowly Worms will turn … 

Hail the Conquering Heroes Come and Go : Pietersen and Ansari at Fenner’s

Cambridge MCCU v Surrey, Fenner’s, Wednesday 11th May 2011

It isn’t often that this blog attends a match taking place in front of the eyes of the world’s press (in this case, a small camera crew from what, I think, was probably Look East (or whatever it’s called these days)

– and Derek Pringle, of the Telegraph, who now has something of the appearance and general demeanour of a jovial but slightly bored circuit judge. Mike Selvey was presumably there too (he wrote about it in the Guardian the next day), but I think he must have been sheltering in the pavilion.

Even more unusual that the world’s press, and a sizeable crowd, had come to see one man.  As the scorecard put it – “We have been fortunate enough so far this season to welcome a number of returning Ashes winners to Fenner’s … and today it is the turn of Kevin Petersen …”.  Not so overawed by celebrity, I see, that they felt obliged to spell his name right.

The first time I saw Pietersen play (for Notts at Grace Road in 2003) I was unwittingly seeing what most of the crowd had come to see today – an astonishing display of hitting that smashed more than one of the windows in the Meet.  My principal feeling at the time was irritation with the Leicestershire bowling, and a premonition that Pietersen could well cause England some problems in the future (at the time he was an overseas player, you will remember).

The other story that was waiting to be written was hubris undone by nemesis, in the shape of a slow left-armer.  Vic Marks, in the Observer, had already predicted the assassin-to-be, the England under-19 man, Zafar Ansari.

A wicket had fallen when I arrived, but, as the second wicket stand grew, the jocular possibility dawned on the crowd that this pair might  selfishly bat all day, and we might all have to go home without having seen Pietersen at all.  But not so.  At about noon, the demiurge descended from Olympus, standing tall and rotating his mighty weapon.

As luck would have it, he was facing the other slow left-armer (one P. Best) in his first over.  By lunch, he had survived a promising-looking LBW appeal and hit two straight sixes off the pesky SLA, which I didn’t so much see as hear – the crack of the bat followed by a distant echo as it smashed into a wall. 

It went thataway

In the first over after lunch (at 1.45), just as I was inserting some more batteries into my camera, nemesis indeed struck, in just the form predicted by the Sibylline Marks.  

Five minutes later a crocodile of excited schoolboys were led into the ground and settled down along the boundary to watch the Great Man in action (something to tell their grand-children).

Which one's Pietersen, Sir?

At 2.15 the Cricket Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph ambled back into the ground (from the pub) and resumed his seat in a little tent of the sort that is usually used for judging prize marrow competitions at village fetes.  About half an hour later he ambled off again – whether back to the Free Press or otherwise, I don’t know. I’m sure the two serious-looking types with laptops sitting alongside him filled him in on what he’d missed. 

No sign of Pietersen for the rest of the day.  Perhaps he was holed up in the dressing room making the acquaintance of his unfamiliar team-mates, or had decided to slip away to see what was on offer at the Fitzwilliam.

The real story, as we now know in retrospect, was Cambridge’s victory, and the real star (even if he missed Surrey’s second innings because he had to go on a field trip to West Mersea) was young Ansari.  At least I’ll have no difficulty remembering when I first saw him in action.

And I do now have a new recruit pencilled in for my England XI c. 2017 – like so:

Lyth (Yorkshire)

Chopra (Warwickshire)

Hales (Notts)

Taylor (Leicestershire)

Stokes (Durham)

Ansari (Surrey)

Bairstow (Yorks)

Rashid (Yorkshire)

Buck (Leicestershire)

Harris (Glamorgan)

Woakes (Warwickshire)

Whether that will seem any more accurate a prediction in 2017 than my thoughts about Pietersen in 2003 do now, we shall have to see.  Though I should point out that it’s based on players I have watched recently, and so is distorted by my restricted view –

Storm Clouds gather over Grace Road as Hoggard Strikes

Leicestershire v Surrey, Grace Road, County Championship, day 1 (24 August)

Storm clouds gathering –

 as Hoggard strikes (to remove one of the Surrey openers) –

According to most sources – the Guardian, for instance – Chairman Must Go Says Hoggardand Cricinfo, which suggested that Red Hoggo was planning a sitdown protest on the pitch – it should have been an interesting day at Grace Road today.  The various newshounds in attendance must have been a little disappointed by the lack of drama, although I dare say there must have been a bit of an atmosphere in the office.

The gist of the story is that Hoggard had presented a letter to the Board, with the support of Coach Tim Boon and – apparently – the other players, the groundstaff and most of the administrative staff, “demanding” the removal of Chairman Neil Davidson.  This follows on from the resignation of Chief Executive David Smith (K.D. Smith, the one-time Warwickshire batsman), who cited interference by Davidson in matters of team selection.

I find this all a very sad situation.  Davidson I’ve always had time for, because of his robust defence of the interests of the smaller counties.  Smith seemed to be a genuine cricket man (unlike the previous incumbent, who struck me a suit pure and simple).  I like the fact that I’ve more than once seen Smith at Fairfield Road.  There seemed – and indeed seems – to be little difference between their philosophies: both, for instance, are in favour of  (and are now claiming credit for) the policy of reducing our reliance on Kolpaks and developing home-grown players instead (which is now – clearly – bearing fruit).

The point at issue, according to Davidson, seems to be whether the Chairman has the right to interfere in team selection if he feels that misguided selections are effecting the team’s performance in the one competition that he feels to essential to the financial stability of the club – 20/20.  Hoggard’s action appears to suggest that there are wider issues of managerial style involved.

At the Members’ Forum I attended, Davidson criticised Smith for making public the detail of what had been discussed between them.  Hoggard has now made the same complaint about Davidson, claiming that the contents of his letter were not intended for public consumption.  

With some misgivings, I signed the petition that was being circulated to call an Extraordinary General Meeting of the members and propose a motion of no confidence in the Chairman, not least because I felt that the grounds for refusing the previous petition (which I hadn’t signed) – that the last two pages hadn’t had the proposal on it and that it hadn’t been presented at the Company Secretary’s office in Nottingham – struck me as fairly spurious.  I did stress, as I did so, that this didn’t necessarily mean I endorsed the vote of no confidence.   

I suspect that, unless you have some first-hand experience of the parties involved (which I do not) the truth of all this is hard to discover.  We shall see what we shall see, but – as I say – all very unfortunate, particularly given the general optimism at the start of the season.

And the cricket?  Hoggard took early wickets while it was raining (which it did – on and off – for the first hour), then Ramprakash scored a century.  In years to come I can imagine some theoretical nippers leafing (or scrolling) through their Wisdens and saying “this Ramprakash – he must have been quite a player.  The last man to score a hundred centuries!”  and me replying “Ah yes – I saw the last of them, you know.  At Grace Road”. – (which it may possibly have been).  But I really can’t remember a thing about it, beyond the fact that he never really looked like getting out.

A curious fact, worth noting, is that both teams’ ex-England stars (Hoggard and Ramprakash) had the squad number 77 on the back of their shirts.  I think this must have some kind of mystical significance, and – as the two 77s clashed – I was rather put in mind of the following hit from 1977 by the reggae group Culture.  Perhaps the brooding, apocalyptic feel of the song might also be appropriate, in light of the goings on behind the scenes at Grace Road.

A 99 for Ramprakash (and a regular cone for me)


Derbyshire v Surrey, Queen’s Park, Chesterfield, County Championship, 28th June

Mark Nicholas, in this month’s Wisden Cricketer (for the article in its full horror, see How to make 18 go into 12  ) writes

“It would be no shame for some counties to relinquish their first-class status … Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire – to name four of six or seven – exist for no obviously justifiable reason.” 

I don’t know what reason Nicholas thinks would justify the existence of a County Cricket Club, but let us imagine bundling this silvery-tongued reptile into an unmarked car and taking  him to see the day’s cricket I saw last Monday at Chesterfield, just to be sure he knows what he is so casually consigning to oblivion.

The decline of the out ground is one of the great shames of our cricketing era.  Flicking through the fixture list for 1960 (the year I was born) we see the names Ilkeston, Burton-on-Trent, Ilford, Pontypridd, Llanelli, Stroud, Dudley, Snibston, Nuneaton (Griff Colliery), Coventry (Courtauld’s), Cowes, Worksop, Neath, Loughborough, Hinckley, Ashby, Worthing, Hastings, Maidstone, Bournemouth, Blackheath, Kettering, Wellingborough, Clacton, Dover, Harrogate, Portsmouth … Mostly gone now, like names from a pre-“Beeching” railway timetable, and like them they could, with a little effort, be rearranged into a mournful sort of poem of lament.

A few are left (or have emerged) – Scarborough, Croydon, Bath, Tunbridge Wells, Beckenham, Richmond, Arundel, Uxbridge, Guildford, Horsham, Basingstoke (as the list implies, a few enlightened counties are using outgrounds for 40 and 20 over matches this year).  

Leicestershire have – alas! – abandoned the Oakham festival, which, until a couple of years ago, was one of the highlights of my cricketing year.  Derbyshire, however, have seen the light and – after a break of some seven or eight years – returned to playing at what is, in my view (and the view of others, such as Jackie Hampshire) the most beautiful and suitable for its purpose of all county grounds – Queen’s Park, Chesterfield.

As the name implies, the park itself was initiated to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.  I see that another five acres of land was subsequently purchased as a result of some “ladies” raising £1,000 from a “five-day bazaar”.  Our thanks are due to these ladies – that must have been one hell of a jumble sale.

The park itself has a miniature railway, that can be viewed as it proceeds around the cricket ground –


 The ground has a pleasant pavilion, unfortunately half-obscured here by a temporary sightscreen –

 A conservatory, pressed into use as the club shop –

 A hand-operated scoreboard (no. 3 here is Ramprakash, no.5 Younus Khan) –

 stalls selling “Quality Fish and Chips” (which I can vouch for), beers and Frederick’s (deservedly) award-winning ice creams.  And all of this enjoyed by a substantial crowd – far from the three men and a dog of anti-Championship rhetoric – larger than anything I’ve seen at Derby, and quite possibly larger than the one for Leicestershire’s match at the Oval that I reported on a while back.  Hardly a park bench or patch of grass to be had, and on a working Monday in term time, too – I imagine the crowds for the 20/20 matches at the weekend would have been even more substantial.

I don’t know whether M.C.J. Nicholas would agree, as I drop him off, suitably chastened, back at Skylab*, but this is the reason why Derbyshire (and Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire) exist – not to produce a successful Test team (though there is another argument there) but for its own sake as a good thing in itself.  

Do you see?

And the cricket?  A 99 for Ramprakash and some smooth runs from Surrey’s current Galactico, Younus Khan.  But , of course, you can read about that elsewhere, and it isn’t really, or entirely, the point.

*(Later: a correction – I believe Mark Nicholas works for another station that I can’t get on my telly, rather than Sky.  Mind you, Sky’s cricket coverage could be presented by W.G. Grace, and I’d be none the wiser)

A thought from Charles Haddon Spurgeon and some excesses at the Oval

Surrey v Leicestershire, The Oval, County Championship, Friday 4th June  

Not, perhaps, a full report, but a few vignettes.

The Oval tube station has a very pleasing aspect – art deco uplighters on the escalator, “classical” music played in the entrance hall (presumably to soothe the savage breasts that might otherwise congregate there and Behave Antisocially) and these murals –


 – the figure on the left is Alan Knott, I think (or possibly Jack Russell) –  the other two I can’t place.  The thought for the day – written out neatly on the whiteboard – is from Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist minister whose Metropolitan Tabernacle was situated not too far away ( I have a cousin who studied for the Ministry at the college named after him, also quite nearby) –

Interesting to see that his influence still persists near his old stamping (or preaching) ground – the quote-merchant at the entrance to the Hammersmith & City Line at King’s Cross prefers Bertrand Russell.

The last time I visited the Oval was for the equivalent fixture last year see here and I see then that Matt Boyce had already been dismissed by the time I arrived.  This was also the case on Friday, and seemed a good omen for my hoped-for repetition of last year’s performance from Leicestershire – a double century from Taylor and a hundred from Dut Toit.  I got something similar, though the runs were differently distributed – a big hundred from Jefferson, 61 from Taylor and decent knocks by Nixon and Du Toit.  

A wag behind me wondered whether the partnership between Nixon and Jefferson was the biggest at the Oval between two American presidents, which it might have been until Taylor (Zachary Taylor) came in.  An amusement for a long winter’s night – devise a Presidents’ XI.

I bear Surrey no ill-will, but I derive some satisfaction from seeing the richest county (we’re told) at the bottom of the Championship – at least money can’t yet “buy success” in this form of the game.  But then, wandering round the Oval, it’s clear that (unlike Grace Road or Wantage Road) this is not a stadium (ground is too small a word for it) that is made with the County Championship in mind, and that success there is not what they’re hoping to buy.  The towering Babylonian stands, the high rise pavilion, the endless bars and countless lavatories, the sumptuous (I’m sure) hospitality suites, the other nameless constructions and  – soon to come – the hotel need Test Matches and star-spangled 20/20 games, and no doubt they will get them, though I’m not sure even that will be enough to satisfy this mini-megacity’s ravenous appetite for cash.  There is an air of hubris about this place, though I fear the coming nemesis is more likely to be visited upon poor old Leicestershire, Northants and Derby than Surrey.

Mind you, a fair proportion of the money for the hotel must have been generated by the group whose photo I presented in my last past – not in fact the Surrey team (you guessed?) – but a stag do (I imagine) who seemed to be supporting Leicestershire, at least until the point (about 2.30 in the afternoon) when they must have been too ratarsed to have much idea where they were, let alone which team they were supporting.  At £3.70 a a pint (London prices!) they must have made a considerable contribution.  And no doubt, when the hotel is built, they could have been carried back to their rooms in wheelbarrows by the stewards.  I think I may have seen a glimpse of  the future here.

What would Spurgeon have thought of all this?  Not a lot, obviously, though I can’t deny that Little Bo Peep, Baloo the Bear and, no doubt Surrey themselves did seem to be enjoying their excesses.

“It is not how much we have but how much we enjoy that makes happiness“.  I shall think of that through the coming months, as I sit under my tree at Fairfield Road with a bottle of pop. 

Send in the clowns : Leicestershire v Surrey at the Oval, 4th June

To the Oval today, to watch Leicestershire putting “Cricket’s answer to Manchester United” to the sword, with some excellent performances from Jefferson, Taylor and Du Toit.  A full report to follow, possibly.

An incidental pleasure was watching Surrey (in their new T20 kit and under the direction of their new captain Rory Hamilton-Brown – he’s the one to the right of the picture, on the ground, in the rather fetching blue frock and white drawers) going through their fielding routines.  Like so –

Leicestershire v Surrey, County Championship, Kennington Oval 31st July

Seems like a long time ago now, as I sit listening to the rain fall, not watching the cricket and not listening to TMS, but yesterday I enjoyed a balmy day’s cricket at the Oval, where Leicestershire were playing Surrey.

I didn’t watch anywhere near as much cricket when I lived in London as I do now, but I always enjoyed a day at the Oval, probably slightly more even than Lord’s.   Lord’s, of course, had the grandeur but the Oval had a real atmosphere to it, raffish and non-U,  a cockney-cum- gin’n’Jag belt Surrey cum-West Indian flavour.  I quite often used to go to the last day of the last Test of the Summer, which always used to be on the August Bank Holiday.  The tickets were cheap for that, if you got there early enough.

The last couple of times I’ve been there I’d felt that that atmosphere had gone rather. They’ve redeveloped (or indeed regenerated)  it to accomodate more spectators and I felt it had become oppressive – like some kind of Roman amphitheatre with huge banks of seating encircling the pitch in place of the old splintery wooden benches.  The members area seemed to have attracted lairy Cityboys in wraparound sunspex  waving beer bottles – there, presumably, because all their money couldn’t get them into MCC.

Anyway, today I didn’t feel that.  God was in his Heaven, and all was right with the world.  When I arrived (ten minutes or so after the start) Leicester had already lost one wicket – Matt Boyce run out after what sounded like some unfortunate confusion with his opening partner.

The rest of the day was our two mature South Africans,  Dippenaar and Ackerman, and the young prospects Smith and Taylor clipping the huffing, puffing Surrey attack all over the shop for a substantial total.  There was a passage of play when Taylor was – I was about to say literally (but that’s a rather unpleasant mental image) – milking Andre Nel for a stream of twos and singles and strolling up and down the wicket without a care in the world.  That is an excellent sight.

Surrey, incidentally,  have a strong contender for loopiest spectator of the year award.  A group of largely topless males sitting as far away from the square as you could possibly sit – the action must have been all-but- invisible to them – one of them bearing a very strong resemblence to Charlie Chuck (a celebrated Leicestershire resident, I believe) and bellowing incomprehensible Chuck-style commentary at regular intervals.  Not quite as barmy as the bloke at Lords who sits in the same place every match (roughly square to the square on the right-hand side of the Pavilion) and shouts  “Come on you Middles, up the Middles” with metronomic accuracy every minute at Middlesex matches.

Anyway, happy days.