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