Many Exits And An Entrance : My September In Cricket

Grace Road Autumn

Leicestershire v Essex, Grace Road, County Championship

Northamptonshire v Sussex, Wantage Road, County Championship (both September 2014)

September in cricket?  I’m not convinced there should be any.  My ideal season would end with the Championship wrapped up by the end of August, the last Test on August Bank Holiday and only a week or two of festival cricket at the seaside to come.  Of course, we would lament the absence of cricket, what with the weather being so lovely and everything, but really it is the Summer Game and it should end with Summer.

Both Leicestershire and Northamptonshire’s seasons had effectively ended well before the August hiatus in the Championship anyway.  Neither had won a match nor looked likely to, so having to play another couple of matches in September felt a little like a boxer who’d already thrown in the towel being shoved back into the ring to take a few more rounds of punishment.

The end of the season is, of course, the time for goodbyes, and, in cricket, these are seldom easy or handled well.  Ideally the faithful old retainer would, after many long years of service, acknowledge that his leg cutter no longer had quite the nip it used to and regretfully inform the Secretary of his intention to retire.  After brushing aside attempts to dissuade him “But Joe, the old place just won’t be the same without you” he would leave to a rousing chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow” and invest the takings from his benefit in a little public house (where he would not, of course, become too fond of his own wares and decline into alcoholism).

But that is not often how it is handled these days.  Although there will be many players bidding farewell to both Grace and Wantage Roads at the end of this season, their circumstances are a little different.  At Leicestershire the best young players are trying to leave against the wishes of the club, and at Northants the club are retiring their older players, in some cases against their wishes.

Before the match against Essex had started Nathan Buck was known to be fleeing for Lancashire, Shiv Thakor for Derbyshire and, during the course of it, Captain Cobb announced that he would be decamping to Wantage Rd. (perhaps to be nearer to his florist’s shop)

Cobbys the Florist

Since then Greg Smith has announced that he’s leaving for Nottinghamshire, where I think he might be seeing a lot of Lady Bay (works in the tea bar underneath the scoreboard on Thursdays, nice lass), which leaves only Ned Eckersley still frantically sending out a “come and get me plea”

Come and get me! Please!

Come and get me! Please!

 

My two penn’orth on what is wrong with Leicestershire and what can be done about it will have to wait for another day, but I would say that the most dispiriting aspect of what turned out to be the last day of the season at Grace Rd. (Leicestershire having lost by an innings within two days) was that there were so few Leicestershire supporters there to see it and so many from Essex.  Put a few deckchairs out and we could have been on the seafront at Clacton.

Considered rationally, Northants have had an even worse season than Leicestershire (albeit at a higher level).  Leicestershire at least held their own over the first two days in most of their games (on the basis of bonus points alone they would have finished fifth) whereas Northants have been thoroughly outclassed in almost every match.  In spite of that the atmosphere at Wantage Road seemed rather more cheerful.  I’m not convinced the regulars there really enjoy being successful, for one thing.  For another, none of the more promising young players are making desperate attempts to tunnel their way out and those who are leaving can at least say they’ve had a good innings (or be told that by others) and leave with the blessings of the stalwarts (as, here, do James Middlebrook and Andrew Hall)

Godbye to Middlebrook and Hall

Talking of exits, this may have been Peter Willey’s last match as an Umpire (subject to legal action). I’m not certain that I saw him play on this ground in his debut season (1966), but it’s more than likely that I did, in which case I’ve been watching him, in one capacity or another, for almost half a century.  I must say he’s aged a lot better than I have.

Willey leaves the field

For every exit there’s an entrance, more or less, of course, and here – waiting to make his – is 16-year-old Saif Zaib, who’s been signed on a three-year contract.  Haven’t seen him play, but I’m told he’s quite useful.

Waiting to make an entry

I first saw Willey play in the company of my Dad.  I like to keep track of the peregrinations of his memorial bench when I’m at Wantage Road and, on this occasion, he had his back to the action and was securing a temporary sightscreen. I suppose that might be what he would have wanted.

 

Memorial bench

Ah well.  That’s me done. For another year, anyway.

 

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.)

Deep deep peace : the County Championship returns to Grace Road

Leicestershire v Sussex, County Championship, 30 & 31 July

And so, after  the hurly-burly of the twenty-twenty (or, in my case, the 2nd XI Championship), it’s back to the deep, deep peace of the County Championship.

Most of the significant action in this match took place on the first day, which I missed.  Promotion chasing Sussex had bowled Leicestershire out for 204 in conditions conducive to pace bowling, young Lee Hatchett (a name for headline writers everywhere to take note of) taking 5-47.  Leicestershire’s pace attack, with Hoggard to the fore,  had responded in kind with four wickets.  Things looked evenly poised at the beginning of day two.

What Sussex needed was a long, slow, patient innings to take the game out of Leicestershire’s reach and it came in the form of an innings of 184 from Chris Nash that was notable chiefly for its length, aided and abetted towards the end by a pugnacious half century from Yasir Arafat.  Could Leicestershire steer a safe course through the murk (it had been cloudy all day and the evening was drawing in) to the haven of the close of play?  Unhappily, no.  58-4 by the time the rain set in at 5.00, still 116 runs behind and their best hope (J.W.A.T.) back in the pavilion after an elegant six ball 5.

Still, this did give the opportunity to photograph a Taylor innings in its entirety, which I’m sure posterity will thank me for.  You can see how murky the conditions were from these photos – nothing to do with the fact that I was using a cheap camera with a digital zoom. 

A clip off his legs for a single –

and the delivery that dismissed him (he was trying to shoulder arms to one that rose unexpectedly high and tickled his raised bat on its way through to the keeper) –

Interesting to see how far down the wicket he has come to the fairly rapid Yasir Arafat – perhaps a ploy to avoid his perpetual bete noire of being trapped lbw before he’s had a chance to get going.

The only question really going into day three was how long Leicestershire could survive, which was a pity as I was to be joined by Liberal England‘s Jonathan Calder.  I think he managed to find some points of interest, though.  Some gentle drizzle meant a delayed start, so the answer was until 3.00, with a break for one of the Meet’s excellent chicken and mushroom pies.  Most of Leicestershire’s lower order can swing a bat, but they’re not really built for heroic rearguard actions.  Collymore took six of the wickets, but I was pleased to see Panesar looking springy and sprightly again, and he deserved his stumping (Wayne White losing his patience).

As we left the ground, inevitably, the sunlight was glorious for the first time in three days.  ‘Twas ever thus, I suppose.

A passage which I did not take … into the rose-garden

MMCU Cambridge v Sussex, Fenner’s, 14th May

This may come as a surprise, but there was a time when I took little interest in cricket.  Rather like a drunk who’s had a blackout, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when this period started and ended, but my memory of events in the cricketing world becomes fuzzy around 1979 (when I would have been 18) and only starts to come back into focus in about 1984, when some twitch upon the thread (an old Playfair?) began to draw me inexorably back.  (This was not, I hasten to add, because I was permanently drunk during this time).

This period coincided (not co-incidentally, really) with my time at University, which is why my visit to Fenner’s yesterday was the first time I had set foot in the ground.  Why it never occurred to me, whenever I was wracked with Angst, Ennui and Weltschmerz (worse, even, than Emerson, Lake and Palmer), that the solution lay so close at hand, I cannot say.  But there we are.

Like much of Cambridge, Fenner’s is actually rather less leafy and olde-worlde than one might imagine.  Pretty, yes, but not much more so than, say, Harborough’s Fairfield Road ground.  The pavilion, which is not unpleasant, but clearly designed with function rather than aesthetics in mind, dates from 1972, and replaces an older, wooden structure.  Overlooking one side of the pitch – and this is where they are ahead of the game – is some, recently built,  part of Hughes Hall, a graduate college, which no doubt also generates a decent amount of income by doubling up as a Conference Centre and suchlike.  One day all grounds will be like this, indeed, many already are.  Facts have to be faced, of course, and it’s no use me a whinin’ an’ a pinin’, but I can’t help wondering what was there before this structure. Trees, I imagine.

Anyway, enough of this and down to the match.  It was the third and final day between Cambridge and Sussex.  Cambridge required an improbable total to win in the second innings.  I say Cambridge, but only three members of the side were from the University, the others from what used to be Sea-Cat, but is now Anglia Ruskin University.  I suppose the great hope in watching a match like this would be to see, all unknowing, some great player in his sporting infancy.  I don’t know whether I saw that, but I did see a couple of quite decent innings.  One was from an opener, untroubled by the (admittedly innocuous) seamers and judiciously aggressive against the spinners.  While I was watching I was under the impression that this was Akbar Ansari (reading Social Anthropology at Trinity Hall), but I see from Cricinfo that it was, in fact, one Philip Hughes – not the inventive Australian who shot briefly across our horizon last year – but an 18 year old from Downing, making his debut. A name to bear in mind, conceivably.  

The real discovery, though, was a very strong front runner for the coveted award for the most distracting fieldsman of the year.  Step forward one WAT Beer, of Sussex.  Sub editors throughout the land must be hoping that this diminutive 22 year old  leg spinner hits the big time – Beer gives Aussies headache, We want Beer! say selectors – the headlines will write themselves.  Many players pass the long hours in the field by practising their repertoire of strokes in slow motion, or their bowling actions.  The pint-sized Beer did both incessantly, but also showed us his golf swing and at one point seemed to be playing darts.  He entertained us with a range of silly walks (Crouch-style robot dancing, moonwalking, David Brent as gibbon and so on). He whistled the theme tune to the Archers, tried to peer through the windows of the students’ accommodation, read a few notices that had been tacked onto some scaffolding and, when he couldn’t find anything else to do, rummaged vigorously in his jockstrap.  A great favourite with the crowds in the years to come, I’m sure, though I feel his leg spin needs a bit more work (though he does begin his run up with what looks like a Johnny Wilkinson-style prayer).

Anyway, as illustration, here is the new pavilion, yesterday –

New pavilion at Fenner's

Here is the old one, shortly before it collapsed, from the look of it.  (The great Majid Khan at the non-striker’s end, possibly?) –

Old pavilion at Fenner's

And here – in the middle of the picture – is WAT Beer, doing his Peter Crouch –

Silly walker

A cricketer (and poet) in underwear : John Augustine Snow

Almost since I began writing this blog, I’ve had a steady stream of visitors seeking pictures of “cricketers in their underwear” and – I can almost picture them trooping dejectedly away – I’ve had to disappoint them.  I have had no such pictures.  Now, however, I’ve found one and – what’s more – he is the answer to the poetry quiz I set in my last post.  So, two birds with one stone.  Here is John Snow, the Sussex and England fast bowler, in his vest –

John Snow in a vest

 Snow was the son of the Vicar of Bognor Regis , who – and this is one of those pieces of trivia known to all cricket fans – gave him the middle name Augustine.  He was also a fairly rapid fast bowler who was almost constantly in the soup with the authorities for one reason or another.  The index to his autobiography Cricket Rebel gives a flavour of it –

Snow, John –

accusations of not trying 41 116 et seq

clash with Pataudi (his county captain) 38

dropped by England (for disciplinary reasons) 34, 36, 44, 71, 76, 125, 136, 198

dropped by Sussex 116 et seq

grabbed by spectator 96, 106, 154

hitting batsmen (with the ball, usually) 19, 106, 111, 131, 155

incident with Boycott 177

knocks over Gavaskar 122 et seq 156

rebuked by Dexter (another county captain) 26-7

row with Clark (England tour manager) 93

row with Griffith (Sussex chairman) 124

rows with Rowan (umpire) 96 et seq

seam picking incident 95

troubles with Sussex 38, 61, 80, 85, 116, 127

warnings 112 et seq

As a result of all this, he was often held up by the Headmaster of my prep school as a bad example – particularly in respect of slacking and giving cheek – though I always rather admired him.

Wearing this vest – and, from the look of things, he is on the balcony of a cricket pavilion (possibly even Lord’s) – would once have been seen as the act of a cricket rebel.  Now, of course, provided it had Vodaphone and Adidas written all over it, it would be the height of respectability, and quite possibly official dress for the England touring party for drinks with the British High Commissioner and suchlike events.

Snow also published two volumes of poetry – Contrasts (Fuller d’Arch Smith, 1971) and Moments and Thoughts (Kaye and Ward, 1973).  His chance to have his poem read on the telly by JB (as mentioned below) was lost because he had refused his captain (R. Illingworth)’s request to bowl flat out (as opposed to fast-medium cutters) and had been dropped for the match that the broadcast was meant to co-incide with.  A pity.  As Snow put it – rather ungracefully I’m afraid – “The fee would have come in handy“.